This year marks the 20th anniversary of Australia’s first ever incubator, Cicada Innovations. To date, Cicada Innovations has incubated over 100 startups, and helped more than 300 companies raise over $450 million in venture capital and government grants, create hundreds of jobs, build local manufacturing capability, file more than 500 patents and trademarks, and launch more than 700 deep tech innovations globally (more information here).
In celebration of 20 years of fostering Australian innovation, we are running a 5-part series highlighting some of the individual companies produced by the incubator.
In 2014, millennial entrepreneurs Francis Vierboom (a UTS alumnus) and Rory San Miguel (a UNSW alumnus) became pioneers of Australia’s emerging drone industry, founding Propeller Aero in a stubborn bid to “make drones a thing”.
The team started its journey in the Cicada Innovations incubator from day one, previously working in a different startup called “Flirtey”, until setting up Propeller Aero within the incubator shortly thereafter.
In Vierboom’s words, “I decided it was a great opportunity to take drones in another direction and see what industrial applications they’d be able to tackle. We wanted to figure out the kind of business that would allow drones to make the most impact, that would figure out their real commercial relevance.”
Propeller Aero uses drones to map clients’ industrial work sites in 3D. It is faster, cheaper, safer and far more accurate than traditional surveys.
Survey data is stored in the cloud and processed using sophisticated analytics, so clients can plan their projects, track performance and forecast progress. For example, mining construction companies can compare frequent drone surveys with design documents to detect issues that may otherwise cost significant time and money to address.
Propeller Aero is heavily shaped by client feedback, and is a product of its founders’ combined expertise: San Miguel studied mechatronics, robotics and automation at university, while Vierboom previously worked in enterprise IT.
In our eyes, Propeller Aero’s story is testament to the determination and drive of deep tech startup founders.
The founders took their deep interest in drone technology, and applied it to a significant business problem – and look where they are today, just five years on.
After incubating at Cicada Innovations from 2014 to 2017, the team continues to benefit from the networks they built while in residence. Propeller raised $26 million in venture capital in July 2020 and now employs over 100 people.
- Sally-Ann Williams is CEO of Cicada Innovations.