Drone Certification TestThe O-Level grad behind Brunei’s leading drone startup InnovAero

July 15, 2021by helo-10

Although drone controllers have made their way into the hands of the everyday person, their adoption in commercial and industrial settings only make up the minority of drone applications globally.

The leading application of drones worldwide continue to be the military – who account for 70% of the market – followed by regular consumers and hobbyists who make up 17% while commercial and civil sector use constitute the remaining 13%.

Despite being the smallest category, the use of drones in the commercial and civil sector are forecasted as having the largest potential for growth.

By 2023, an estimated 2.4 million drones are expected to be shipped for business use – representing a growth rate of 66.8% – with five segments leading its application: agriculture, construction and mining, insurance, media and telecommunications and law enforcement.

At the forefront of commercial drone use in Brunei is a startup called InnovAero, who in their two years of operations have secured some of the biggest drone projects in the country; including a year-long stint for crop monitoring and protection at Brunei’s biggest rice farm, telco tower site inspections for Unified National Networks and more recently, a six figure geospatial mapping project.

Since their clients can come from different sectors, the complexity of InnovAero’s services isn’t just in flight patterns but also in data processing; their team has to be able to analyse different data sets to meet the clients’ needs.

InnovAero isn’t stopping at catering to client projects; they are ambitiously casting sweeping frameworks aiming to usher a new era of drone use in the Sultanate, through a combination of an official drone website for registration and flight application as well as a drone academy.

The skills required for commercial drone flights and analysing the data collected are separate competencies. Their offshoot projects of setting up an online drone platform call for stakeholder engagement and regulatory insight, while their drone academy will tap into pedagogy.

Their self-assigned role of transforming the drone space requires multiple hats, all currently worn by InnovAero’s 28-year-old founder Ian Ong, a bold, brazen former draughtsman who began his professional career immediately after secondary school at the age of 17.

A proof of concept

Ian’s first business opportunity with drones came at the highest level with an introductory pitch to Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) in 2017 to do an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) inspection of their telco towers which are typically done manually by riggers.

The opportunity to pitch came after Ian’s close friend and a BSP contractor introduced him during a meeting. At the time, Ian had yet to acquire any experience with drones – but was keen to pursue the BSP opportunity through a joint venture that would engage a Malaysian drone solutions provider along with a few Brunei-based partners.

“We initially pitched the drone inspection as an alternative that was cheaper, safer and would require less time (than a manual inspection) but would provide the user with very detailed data,” said Ian.

Ian’s venture showed early promise, with BSP requesting a proof of concept (POC) on select sites following their pitch. The POC was positively received according to Ian, but internal differences within the venture prevented a deal from materializing.

Ian would part ways with his early partners, and on the advice of BSP seniors, made his way to Darussalam Enterprise (DARe) to learn how he could build his own startup.

Ian during a consultation with DARe staff. As part of DARe’s startup ecosystem, InnovAero has joined their Accelerate bootcamp, received office space in iCentre and successfully applied for their co-matching grant to help procure essential equipment.

From Megabytes to InnovAero

After meeting with DARe’s startup development unit, Ian founded Megabytes and enrolled to DARe’s flagship startup programme Accelerate under its fourth cycle in 2018.

After completing the 100-day accelerator, he was given an office at iCentre and secured his first major piece of business with BSP’s social investment arm LiveWIRE to supply and service three DJI Agras drones for their AgroBiz Padi Agropreneur programme.

Included in the arrangement was training and demonstration of the DJI Agras – an industry-leading crop spraying drone – which Ian learned how to operate in-person from the authorised suppliers in Malaysia.

“By being the first supplier of the DJI Agras in Brunei, we indirectly became the first (from Brunei) to learn how to operate and service it, which also enabled us to form relationships with the DJI supplier,” said Ian.

A new partner would come knocking soon after. Business consultant and owner of consumer drone retailer Hyperdrive Hobby Shafique Hussain was keen to invest, and so Ian moved the activities of Megabytes’ sole proprietorship under the pair’s newly incorporated sendirian berhad (private limited) InnovAero.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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