Drones to capture data: young entrepreneur’s business idea takes off
Sydney Morning Herald
May 29, 2016
By Kim Arlington
Photo by Steven Siewert
Aonghus Stevens runs a drone company that now specialises in photography and 3D mapping.
Aonghus Stevens was 15 when his business got off the ground.
“I’d been sitting in a history class reading about how drones had been used in a military sense and thought they were an interesting piece of technology,” he said. “I went home, did a bit of research and saw that they weren’t really being sold in Australia.”
Working from his bedroom and using his student email address, he began to sell drones. The operation grew into a million-dollar business. Aonghus Stevens built a million-dollar business selling drones from his bedroom, starting at age 15. Aonghus Stevens built a million-dollar business selling drones from his bedroom, starting at age 15.
Mr Stevens wanted to expand and offer drones as a service, using the unmanned aerial vehicles to capture images and data for clients. He was doing his HSC at The King’s School in 2011 when he tried to raise capital for the venture; 40 or 50 pitches were knocked back.
But somebody saw the potential in drones. Robert Wolf, a friend of President of the United States Barack Obama and a former Wall Street heavyweight, had invested in Measure, a US-based drone-as-a-service firm. Mr Stevens’ business adviser father, Mark, met Mr Wolf through contacts in New York and a joint venture was signed to form Measure Australia.
Mr Stevens, who by then had started a double degree at the University of Sydney, brought his father in as CEO. “I’m the chief technology officer,” he said. “That method of operation allows me to work in the business in a flexible way with uni. While a lot of tech companies have young people at the helm … it helps having some grey hair in the room.”
The company operates a fleet of 30 drones nationally, gathering information for sectors including agriculture, mining and telecommunications. The drones help farmers count livestock, monitor crops and infrastructure, film prestige real estate and assess damaged buildings for insurers.
According to market research, the global drones market will be worth $US5.59 billion ($7.57 billion) by 2020. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that, by 2025, the industry will be worth $US82 billion and employing 100,000 people worldwide.
The sky is not quite the limit for the industry – the Civil Aviation Safety Authority governs the use of commercial drones, which must remain in the pilot’s line of sight – but the technology exists to fly a drone in Perth operated from an office in Sydney.
Mr Stevens said if the regulatory framework allowed it, there would be real benefits in using drones beyond the pilot’s line of sight – especially in Australia, with its vast agricultural holdings and remote areas not accessible by road.
Now 23, Mr Stevens doesn’t see himself as a young businessman. “I’ve been doing this eight years now,” he said. “Age has never been the defining thing, nor has the whole start-up mentality – it’s just part of having grown up in business.”