Drones Startups

A snapshot of today's startup environment exploring commercial drones

3DRobotics X8+ drone in flight.

Exploring the commercial marketplace for drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, have become a pretty familiar sight in recent years, primarily for its military applications. However, civilian and commercial applications for drones are becoming increasingly abundant and plenty of companies are jumping in this potentially multi-billion market. 

With this in mind we explored the databases of  AngelList and Crunchbase to review the companies that are out there focussing on drones. We deliberately searched out startup companies that focus almost exclusively on drones to get a feel for the emerging landscape. Some obvious big players are therefore not included in this review. In total we gathered information on over 140 companies from 24 different countries.

How to Use this Silk: Browse the charts and maps. Click "Explore" anywhere on the site to go into visualization and filtering mode. Search for individual pages or entities in the top search box. All data was collected from AngelListCrunchbase and relevant company websites.

Made with Silk

This ongoing project keeping tabs on the developing commercial marketplace for drones is maintained by in-house data journalists of Silk.

Feel free to contact us at mailto:feedback@silk.co with suggestions of relevant startups.

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Drones startups plotted by HQ locations

Bubble colors indicate the main field of focus for the startup plotted on the map.

What are the commercial applications of drones?

The group of startups can roughly be divided in a couple of specific fields, in terms of the product or service they (envision) to offer. After an initial and admittedly cursory analysis of our database we could identify 6 main and 2 niche fields in which the startups were active.

Even though this identification is subjective for sure, we feel all of the 143 companies examined are covered by one of those 8 fields. A total of 15 startups could be grouped under more than one main field but the vast majority fit snugly in one particular field.

Drones startups per field

The main fields drone startups are exploring

1. Aerial Data: All kinds of startups are trying to capitalize on the imagery and GPS data that can be collected from the air. Demand for this data can come from TV and film, agriculture or real estate, among others. In early 2015 providing customer-ready aerial data seems to be the focus for the largest chunk of drones startups (33% or 52 total).

2. Drone Hardware: There is still a lot to be gained for companies by improving drone technology and hardware - and 38 startups (24%) are heading this call. Most of these startups seem to work on creating smaller and faster drones and making them affordable as consumer products; some are working on the other end of the market and focus for instance on underwater drones.

3. Drone Infrastructure: It is interesting to note that 21 startups (13%) are betting on the flight that the drones market will take: they are investing in the infrastructure that will facilitate the various usages drones can have. This includes an online infrastructure - like platforms comparing drone prices or locating your nearest professional operator - and a brick-and-mortar infrastructure, like networks of docking and charging stations.

4. Drone Software: Drones need operating systems to fly around so 18 of our startups (11%) work solely on producing better software and apps to make them navigate smarter autonomously

5. Logistics/Transport: Using drones as some sort of transport or delivery aircraft is perhaps the most hyped application since Amazon started experimenting with package delivery by drones. Around 11% of the startups, 17 in total, are currently exploring ways to use drones as delivery systems. A surprising number of them focus on health-related products or services (like an AED delivery system or a pharmacy products delivery system).

6. Drone retail: While many of the companies developing drone hardware offer their products online, 5 startups (3%) stand out by offering a well-stocked online shop with a multitude of drones and drone accessories. If selling drone products or services seems the main focus of the startup they were included in the Drone Retail section. 

Startups grouped by HQ cities

A closer look at the drone startups

The United States is clearly the biggest market for commercial drones but it is by no means the only country where startups are popping up: an additional 23 countries, spread over 5 continents, are host to a total of 58 startups (40% of our database).

The vast majority of companies from our database are proper startups: 127 of them were founded in 2013 or later. Compared to last year, 2015 has been a relatively slow year so far with 14 new startups. While a simple extrapolation of the number of startups founded between January and April shows a projection of 56 new startups this year, this might very well be too modest of a projection.

Drones startups grouped per year - including 2015 projection

Projection of number of startups is based on extrapolation of the data for 2015 so far and is a modest estimate compared to the annual growth shown since 2012. Sources: AngelList and Crunchbase.

Funding in US$ per year & number of funding rounds - including 2015 projection

Projection of funding is based on extrapolation of the data for 2015 so far and is a modest estimate compared to the annual growth shown since 2012. Sources: AngelList and Crunchbase.

For 42 of the startups there was some data available on the funding they have received so far. A look at this limited sample confirms the trend that shows the drone startup environment really coming alive from 2013 on: the number of funding rounds, the total amount and the average amount per funding all grow considerably each year since.

So far, 2015 is keeping up the trend: the amount of (disclosed) fundings in the first 3 months is about equal to last year's total amount of funding. The highest single funding round of $75,000,000 was brokered in 2015 and the average amount of funding has more than doubled compared to 2014.

What types of drones? In the air, on the ground and underwater...but mostly in the air!

What type of investments? Over 40% are +$1 million fundings

Explore the latest drone startups yourself, sorted by year of founding:

Latest drones startups

Click image to see all available information for any particular startup. Click here to explore the full grid of startups from our database.