Drones are on more people’s radars lately—so to speak—and that got Babson College MBA candidate Abby Speicher and her business partners thinking about a possible opportunity: providing training to public safety departments related to these unmanned aerial vehicles.
Now, Speicher and her team have formed a startup, DARTdrones, and are working to nurture their idea into fruition through Babson’s Summer Hatcheries program. (DART stands for Drone Aviation Resourcing and Technology.)
“We want to provide training and certification programs specifically for police and fire departments around the country, because they’re being allowed by the FAA to train and use drones, whereas no commercial entities can use them,’’ Speicher said. Together with her father, Chris, who teaches entrepreneurship courses at Marywood University in Pennsylvania, and Chris Costello, a former student of his who took remote MBA courses while serving in Kuwait, the trio decided to focus the business initially on fire and safety personnel, because drones can go up in the sky carrying infrared and other types of cameras.
Drones can do things like find a fire hotspot, look for missing persons, or follow a suspect being pursued by police. They also have a “big application in hazmat,’’ Speicher said. “Instead of suiting up people they can send up a drone and do tests to put less people in harm’s way.”
DARTdrones is one four graduate student hatchery businesses Babson selected following an interview process. “They wanted to know how the space would benefit the business and what steps we had made toward moving the business forward,” Speicher said. She is now spending the summer working in a small space in Babson’s Olin Hall, where she has access to resources such as space and professors and other hatchery students to discuss ideas and exchange information.
Babson launched the Hatchery program in 1998 as a way to support emerging entrepreneurs with dedicated workspace to shape their opportunities and grow their businesses, according to Janet Strimaitis, executive director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at the college. The program’s mission is “to provide a vibrant atmosphere conducive to sharing ideas and information among student entrepreneurs with convenient access to other Babson resources,’’ Strimaitis said. Six graduate and undergraduate businesses are selected for the summer term. Notable alumni businesses that have launched out of the Babson Hatchery program include BigBelly Solar, IdeaPaint, and Grasshopper.
For Speicher, the program has provided the opportunity to exchange ideas with the founder of another Hatchery program, Date My Wardrobe, which has been invaluable, she said. “We discuss issues that we are facing, upcoming events and conferences, and advice about how to find an intern for the fall semester,’’ she said.
Having a designated office space is also helpful for her startup. “It’s really nice because I’m constantly interviewing people and talking to them on the phone, and it’s the only quiet place on campus besides my car,’’ Speicher said. “It feels like a real thing I’m working on instead of at my parents’ lake house working on my company.”
When calling prospective customers and stakeholders, she said she is able to validate herself by introducing herself as a participant in the Babson Hatchery program. “I think people are more willing to speak with you when they know that you are a part of an organized program.”
The Babson faculty has also “tremendously shaped DARTdrones,’’ she said. “I have used so many of the tools and knowledge that I gained in the first year of the MBA program to develop DARTdrones’ business model and marketing plan.”
Speicher has met with several of the professors this summer who have been instrumental in helping her improve her public speaking ability and “perfecting my pitch,” as well as enhance her business plan and overcome potential issues. She has also used many of the tools that her Entrepreneurship and Opportunity professor taught in his class. “I now focus on experimenting with new ideas to get feedback from stakeholders before implementing those ideas,” she said.
The focus this summer is to build a pilot program for DARTdrones in order to experiment with their training model, learn from customers, and further develop the business model, Speicher said. That’s something the Babson faculty emphasizes so students can learn more about the needs of potential customers, she said. The founders are also accepting applications for a senior flight officer and are hoping to run the pilot program this fall.
In addition to Date My Wardrobe—a fashion marketplace that allows women to rent high-end clothing— the other graduate student hatchery businesses are GivItForward, which lets people create chains of charitable giving, and SubSea Energy North America, which develops hydrokinetic technologies to harness power from ocean and river currents in an environmentally responsible manner.
There are also three undergraduate student hatcheries: Instabuy, an app for make in-store purchases by scanning an item’s barcode; Social Conch, which provides nonprofits with efficient HR management systems; and ThinkBoard, a clear adhesive that can be used to make any smooth surface into a dry-erase whiteboard.
Drone image via Shutterstock.