New South African UAV start-up accelerator launched


South African unmanned aviation technology start-up Mzansi Aerospace Technologies and engineering consultancy firm Royal HaskoningDHV have officially launched Africa’s first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) start-up accelerator programme.

The launch took place on Friday morning at the Ekurhuleni West TVET College (EWC) campus in Katlehong, with attendance from partners Mzansi Aerospace Technologies, Royal HaskoningDHV, United Drone Holdings, Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

The organisers said the use of UAVs, or drones, is a game-changer for many industries including security, agriculture, mining, construction and many others. However, South Africa lacks sufficient drone pilots and drone service providers to meet anticipated industry demand.

To solve this challenge, Mzansi Aerospace Technologies and Royal HaskoningDHV set about launching the first Drone Start-up Accelerator Programme in Africa to help build a and develop start-ups in the drone industry to become viable businesses with a solid understanding of their potential customers, and the skills to run a successful business.

There are 13 companies in the incubation programme, and these cover fields such as security, photography/videography, agriculture etc. They are African Drone Kings, Ziyakhipa Projects, Rine Holdings, Mgwambani Security, Pragmatic, Shibus Construction, QP Drones, Nafasi, Extol, Kurai, Sovereign, Fade Comms and Kasie Labs.

The Ekurhuleni West TVET College provides a base for the start-ups, which can use their premises and facilities. Once the start-ups have been assisted, others will take their place, with perhaps 20 to 30 start-ups under incubation by mid-2020.

Victor Radebe, founder of Mzansi Aerospace Technologies, said the drone sector covers almost every imaginable industry, from agriculture to mining to security, but there are high barriers to entry, particularly regarding regulations. For example, the South African Civil Aviation Authority requires a Remote Operations Certificate to run a commercial business (which can take at least ten months to obtain) and pilots need to be licensed and drones certified.

Radebe said the Start-up Accelerator will help new businesses with experience and expertise, giving them advice on how to establish a viable business in a 20 week period. This will cover things like choosing the right product, managing finances and making the start-up attractive to investors. Opportunities for start-ups range from things like helping the police monitor violent protests to safely navigating fire trucks through informal settlements.

Sean Reitz, CEO and founder of United Drone Holdings, said drones can make a big difference in South Africa’s economy and that if he had an incubator for his businesses when he started it would have been a game-changer. Reitz added that studies show the drone industry can create more than 25 000 jobs in South Africa, and there is a shortage of skilled people in the sector at present. “2020 is going to be the year of the drones,” he said.

Salani Sithole, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal HaskoningDHV, said his company makes use of drones and will share its experience and knowledge with the start-ups. Royal HaskoningDHV uses drones for surveying and mapping, for example. “We bring experience to the start-ups,” he said. The company provides support to four start-up initiatives in Gauteng alone. “We are very excited about this programme. The future is very bright,” he concluded.