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How this 19-year-old came up with ‘drone-vertising’ startup DroneCast

Raj Singh says his startup logged $1.5 million in revenue this year. In a video profile, we catch up with the Drexel student — and see his company's drones in action.

At Macquarie's Philadelphia office. (Courtesy photo)

For 19-year-old Raj Singh, disrupting the norms of advertising is the name of the game. But how?

By attaching banner ads to unmanned aircraft. His company is called DroneCast.

“When we first started, my biggest fear was failure,” said Singh. “But I think we’ve gotten past a certain point where failure isn’t so much a fear as it is a motivator.”

Originally born in India, Singh moved to New Jersey with his family when he was 5. He attended Montgomery High School and started his first business building and selling 3D printers. He then went on to develop NovaBionics, a company that developed prosthetics limbs.

“Some of the businesses failed,” Singh said. “But all of them had a lesson that I learned and really applied to this.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMu6UWZvSSA

Singh began building the drones for his company in January 2014. Most were bought off the shelf, with Singh working with their different parts. Before long, though, he realized it was going to take a lot more to have the drones hold anything.

“We pretty much take everything out and put better stuff in,” he said.

Singh then took the next four months to perfect the drones. He tested them out in his own backyard, trying different materials and weight limits with banners before he knew it was ready. Then on April 29, 2014, with news crews in tow, DroneCast set out to do its first public launch.

“When we did that first launch, it was crazy,” said Singh. “We had the news agencies there; it was all happening so fast. I trusted it but something could go wrong. When it went, came back and safely landed it was a moment of sheer joy.”

DroneCast

A drone. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Since that launch in April, the company moved forward rapidly — bringing in $1.5 million in revenue and raising $1 million in angel funding, as Technical.ly Philly first reported in September. Since then, however, the company has also weathered an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign.

Still, Singh and others are bullish on the technology.

“It has the visibility of banners, but the movement of helicopters,” said DroneCast business advisor (and recent Drexel grad) Aradhya Malhotra. “He’s able to disrupt the form of advertising that we’re currently used to.”

Some of the drones are autonomous, while others need pilots to operate. And they come in all different shapes and sizes. The smallest drone weighs only two pounds but some of the heavier ones can be up to 25 and are able to carry a weight of up to 30 pounds. Singh also says that a drone that can carry 40 to 80 pounds is currently in development.

DroneCast

In flight. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Singh started his college education at Drexel University as a biomedical engineer, but has dropped out temporarily to pursue his business. He plans to continue his education in January 2015.

“Making the decision to take off school was mind boggling,” said Singh. “Friends were saying things. Parents were saying things. Whole community was saying things. But once people started realizing why I took off, I think everybody came around to it.”

As for what lies ahead, Singh say in the future he wants to develop medical drones that can be used alongside emergency medical technicians to help save lives. Singh himself began training and working as an EMT when he turned 15 and has continued to volunteer over 700 hours annually in Princeton, N.J.

“From all those experiences I was able to create DroneCast,” said Singh. “It’s definitely had a huge influence on me.”

DroneCast

Above a Center City street. (Photo by Dan Marcel)

Companies: DroneCast

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