Stu­dents learn how to build drone busi­nesses

Classes aimed at get­ting at­ten­dees FAA pilot’s li­cense, real-world busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Dave Kol­pack

In­struc­tor Matt Dun­levy prob­a­bly didn’t have to re­mind his Univer­sity of North Dakota stu­dents that they’d be shar­ing the airspace as they stood in a field pre­par­ing their drones for flight as the sun set one re­cent af­ter­noon.

“Wel­come to the drone busi­ness, where you will be eaten alive by bugs,” Dun­levy said, as the stu­dents swat­ted away mos­qui­toes.

What Dun­levy doesn’t ex­pect, by the end of the se­mes­ter, is for stu­dents in the new course to be eaten alive try­ing to make a liv­ing in the un­manned air­craft busi­ness. They are learn­ing to fly drones, with the hopes of earn­ing a Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion pilot’s li­cense, and are get­ting real-world busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence. At se­mes­ter’s end, stu­dents will pitch their en­ter­prise ideas to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and ex­ec­u­tives in a “Shark Tank” style set­ting.

Dun­levy told The As­so­ci­ated Press that mar­ket­ing is cur­rently the most im­por­tant facet of the fast-grow­ing in­dus­try.

“Ev­ery­thing comes down to the mar­ket, be­cause that’s the bat­tle­field right now,” he said. “This course will help the stu­dents un­der­stand one of the most im­por­tant mega­trends out there.”

One of the stu­dents, Blaire Beecham, said she dis­cov­ered a pas­sion for drones late in her col­le­giate ca­reer af­ter bounc­ing be­tween UND and Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity. She’s due to grad­u­ate in May with a de­gree in gen­eral stud­ies and a cer­tifi­cate in en­trepreneur­ship. “I would say this is a game-chang­ing class for me,” Beecham said. “And you have the cool­ness fac­tor on top of it.”

The class has three phases: learn­ing to fly a drone, learn­ing about the drone busi­ness, in­clud­ing in­dus­try reg­u­la­tions, and de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness plan.

Beecham’s team is work­ing on de­sign­ing and build­ing a bub­ble or a shield around drones so they can fly un­der­ground or in tun­nels.

Nick Allen, who earned his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and is pur­su­ing a master’s de­gree based on drone re­search, wasn’t will­ing to re­veal his team’s busi­ness plan, be­liev­ing it will turn into a suc­cess­ful com­pany some­day. He would only say it in­volves new ap­pli­ca­tions that don’t rely on “the tra­di­tional sense of a drone, or what you en­vi­sion as a drone.”

The two pri­mary teach­ers, Dun­levy and Rick Thomas, have plenty of ex­per­tise. Dun­levy is the CEO and pres­i­dent of SkySkopes, which em­ploys about 15 un­manned air­craft pi­lots who per­form tasks such as in­spect­ing power lines, wind tur­bines and cell tow­ers, as well as land sur­vey­ing and 3-D mod­el­ing. Thomas is a re­tired se­nior-level Air Force of­fi­cer and pilot of the mil­i­tary’s largest un­manned air­craft who is a pro­gram man­ager for Northrop Grum­man’s aero­space di­vi­sion.

The in­struc­tors don’t have to travel far to find other ex­perts for guest pre­sen­ta­tions. The area is home to Grand Sky, the na­tion’s first un­manned air­craft busi­ness park, and to one of six drone test­ing sites in the U.S.

Mar­garet Wil­liams, dean of the busi­ness and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion school, said the in­au­gu­ral class of 24 stu­dents filled up quickly even though it wasn’t fi­nal­ized un­til a few weeks be­fore the se­mes­ter started, when reg­u­la­tors said it was OK for the class to fly the air­craft for re­search pur­poses. The three-credit course costs about $1,100.

“A lot of peo­ple came for­ward and said, ‘I’m not a stu­dent; I have my de­gree, but I re­ally would like to learn about this,’” Wil­liams said. “I am hop­ing we can de­velop this into non-de­gree, non-credit cour­ses — maybe it’s of­fered on the week­end, maybe it’s of­fered on­line — to give ac­cess to more peo­ple across the coun­try and around the world.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A drone be­ing flown by Univer­sity of North Dakota stu­dents hov­ers over an aero­space build­ing in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on Sept. 28. The fly­ing ses­sion was part of the school’s first drone busi­ness class that is meant to show stu­dents what it will take to fur­ther their un­manned air­craft ca­reers.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Stu­dents in the first drone busi­ness course at the Univer­sity of North Dakota sit in front of a ta­ble of un­manned air­craft and lis­ten to North Dakota State Univer­sity re­searcher John Nowatzki talk about his project to use large drones for pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

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