Business idea: Long-range drones
Year founded: 2019
The startup develops and operates long-range drones for medical transport and linear infrastructure inspections
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Beagle Systems: Long range drones with ascent permit
The start-up Beagle Systems develops and operates long-range drones for medical transport and linear infrastructure inspections up to 200 km and up to 3 kg payload. In May 2020 it received a general ascent permission for flights without visual contact in the state of Lower Saxony. An important step to convince investors and potential customers. We talked to founder Oliver Zoeller.
Originally Oliver Zoeller comes from the Rhineland, he went to school in Koblenz. At 16 he moved to the USA to a “very rural boarding school” in Pennsylvania. There he graduated with a high school diploma equivalent to the Abitur. He then went back to Germany, but to the Hanseatic City of Hamburg: “I did various internships there – including one with Hapag-Lloyd – and made my living as a relocation assistant or with catering jobs such as dishwasher, kitchen assistant, pizza chef or waiter,” he remembers. After all, he studied business administration with Europcar at the Nordakademie, with electro-mobility and operations management as his subjects. Parallel to his studies, Oliver pursued his fascination and taught himself how to build drones and 3D printers.
During a semester abroad from 2016 to 2017 in Shanghai, he often sat down in a garage with aerospace engineers and tinkered with them: “There was always an aircraft being designed, built, a test flight and finally taken apart again. And so on. I learned a lot in the process, but back then, as a businessman, that naturally frustrated me a lot because all this potential was simply taken apart again and disappeared,” he reports amused by the inspiring experience.
Various trade fairs in the field of “Unmanned Systems” and the first co-founder
During this time, Oliver has also visited relevant trade fairs, in Hong Kong or at events at New York University in Shanghai – where he then met Jerry Tang, his technical co-founder, during a lecture on controlling drones via the mobile phone network. For the foundation of their drone start-up Beagle Systems, they brought industrial engineer Mitja Wittersheim on board: “I studied at the Nordakademie with Mitja. He was a year ahead of me, and even then, as president of the student parliament, he was a man of many talents. After graduation, he joined a start-up company, but was not so happy because it was not technical enough,” says Oliver. Then we traveled to various trade fairs in the field of unmanned systems and found out what was in demand again and again – but not yet on the market – namely drones that are allowed to fly long distances within the European legal framework. The startup Beagle Systems today develops unmanned inspection and transport aircraft, produces with a 3D printer, which can legally fly up to 200 kilometers without visual contact to the controller. This means that power line or track maintenance can now be performed without the need for expensive helicopter rentals. The application also focuses on medical transport from hospital to pathology.
At that time, legal counsel was still necessary for the foundation: the lawyer Amos Münch became a strategic partner. “We got to know Amos in Shanghai. He was interested in our project right from the start. In 2019 we met again in Hamburg. Amos supported us in legal matters and contributed a small fishing investment”, Oliver reports.
A home for the project
Now all we had to do was decide where the startup would be based. “For the location of the startup we initially had China, Germany and Australia in mind. What spoke against China was the lack of legal certainty: There was almost no protection for intellectual property there, and in addition, one could generally hardly rely on contracts. Yes, of course there are fewer regulations there, but from one day to the next the government can say: “You are not allowed to fly now. Although Australia offers extensive areas for test flights, the market volume there is lacking. That is why the decision was made in favor of the Hanseatic City – although considerably higher legal requirements apply here for drone operations, with the single European market a large, homogeneous playing field and a good legal framework.
Support for the project
To enable the team to devote itself to the project full-time without any side jobs and to enable Jerry Tang to move to Hamburg, Beagle Systems applied for an EXIST grant at the end of 2018: “I came across EXIST online. Since we lacked the necessary university connection and the Nordakademie does not support founders due to the dual system, we turned to Nils Neumann from ,beyourpilot’. I was then approached by the Helmut Schmidt University during a lecture: They were enthusiastic about the project and took over the mentorship. On the part of beyourpilot, the start-up consultant Dr. Andrea Otto has been supporting us since 2018. She gave us excellent support during the nine-month application process and is still at our side today,” reports Oliver. The university network “beyourpilot”, which today operates under the brand “Startup Port”, supported the development with the start-up consultant Dr Andrea Otto from 2018 to 2022, for example with the successful nine-month EXIST application process.
In August 2019, the team received the InnoRampUp grant from the Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank (IFB Hamburg), which supports start-ups with grants of up to 150,000 euros in the start-up phase: “We started out in a pigsty on a farm in Quickborn – the InnoRampUp grant enabled us to afford office and production space in Wandsbek,” explains Oliver. What is the next stop? “Depends on how things go. If we have a customer, then we prepare for series production. But in doing so, we have to separate office and production, which I would regret. I appreciate that everyone here can see what it’s all about right now. I have noticed in many companies that the team often didn’t care about the product, but that should never be the case here,” concludes Oliver confidently.
Essential ascent permission signals the feasibility of implementation
In May 2020, the start-up received a general ascent permit for flights without visual contact in the state of Lower Saxony. This means that the team can now perform commercial flights outside cities up to 200 kilometers distance and 3 kilograms payload. “This is a big step for us, because although we have been able to explain to investors and customers that we can offer such flights, there was still an understandable skepticism,” says Zoeller. For planned customer projects and both the current convertible loan and the upcoming (seed) financing round, Beagle Systems can thus demonstrate that its concept not only works technically, but can also be implemented in the strict legal environment in Germany.