Small Drone Businesses Find Success, Support In North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. — With a background in metalworking, elementary school education and professional disc golf, Joey Schmidt might not strike most as the typical drone business owner.

Schmidt operates Flight Pros, a Fargo, N.D., company that flies drones in order to collect data for cinematography, map creation and 3D modeling.

“I think that’s what is fun about this business, there are so many avenues to go into as a service provider,” he said.

Flight Pros is one of several small businesses in North Dakota focused on providing services to a customer base that is growing as more businesses and organization integrate drones into their operations.

Schmidt and founders of three other drone companies took the stage on March 23 at the annual UAS Industry Day in Bismarck to reflect on their success and challenges they’ve faced trying to stake their claim in an emerging industry.

Leveraging partnerships has become a key business aspect for drone companies in the state.

“That’s been a really critical component in our business launch,” said Adam Lingwall, co-founder of ISight RPV Services, a drone flight operation business in Grand Forks specializing in inspection, precision agriculture and research operations.

Lingwall said the company works with Floridian aircraft manufacturer, Altavian, to test drone and sensor configurations for flights as well as other local companies.

Partnerships have also been key for another Grand Forks firm. SkySkopes, a drone flight operations company pursuing work in the energy, utility, construction and agricultural industries, has forged partnerships in drone and sensor manufacturing, software solutions and other specialities.

“These partnerships help us capitalize on opportunities, meet clients, meet other partners and help us refine our products,” SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy said.

Dunlevy emphasized that the industry at this point in North Dakota is more about collaboration than competition, a viewpoint other entrepreneurs also echoed.

For instance, Alex Kube, chief strategy officer for Botlink of Fargo, said the company isn’t a flight service provider but supports others in the industry fulfilling that role.

“We’re not a service provider,” he said. “We allow service providers and end users to use their drone more effectively.”

The term ecosystem often is used by business owners and state officials to describe North Dakota’s collection of UAS companies, researchers and financial programs — each doing its part to advance North Dakota’s position as an industry leader.

“We’ve each found our own niche for where to go for providing service, and what I believe is there is lots of room in the UAS industry,” Schmidt said. “As long as you’re providing quality, top-notch service and your customer believes in you and gets the right data, that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

This story is part of Droning On’s weeklong coverage highlighting presentations made at North Dakota UAS Industry Day held March 23 in Bismarck.