On June 3, 2016, Topekan Austin Wright watched an online video of drones swooping through the air. It became a turning point that has led to nights of missing sleep, bus ownership and three drone businesses.
“It’s endless opportunities,” Wright said of his whiplash-quick entry into the drone business.
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial-minded. I jumped into action, called a couple of friends and said, ‘What do you think is the likelihood of this thing catching on?’ ” he said.
Then he ordered about $20,000 worth of drones.
His investment has paid off, and the business he founded after watching a video and grasping the growth potential of drones, aDRONEaline Racing, has continued to expand from the retail store he opened in November 2016. Wright hopes to up his game even further through Top Tank, where his business is
one of 10 finalists in the competition vying for a $100,000 investment from five Topeka businessmen to open a downtown Topeka store.
Wright’s aDRONEaline has become three businesses: the retail store, a film company where drones are used to shoot real estate, and a traveling business that Wright referred to as a “circus or carnival” approach to drone racing that involves a mobile unit that tours to hold drone races and events.
He has purchased a tour bus and employed 26 people for the latter business, and a 14-city tour is in the works for next summer.
Through Top Tank, Wright hopes to open a downtown store in a larger warehouse-style space that will expand his Topeka presence.
“My aim is to open an experienced-based indoor drone racing (business), where you can come, rent our equipment or use your own equipment, and learn how to fly FPVs inside year round, ” he said.
FPV stands for first-person view, which means the drone flies from the view of the pilot.
In addition, Wright plans to create spaces that will encourage STEM learning and offer opportunities for school field trips where youths can learn about aspects of the drone industry from programming to piloting and soldering. Kids could build, program and fly the drones.
“Really techy, really hands-on things to teach kids,” he said. “In just a couple of years, USPS, UPS, FedEx and Amazon, all these places are going to start doing drone deliveries. There are huge opportunities for technicians, programmers, even the airline industry is going to be completely disrupted because of drones. It’s endless opportunities. It’s an industry in its infancy, which is another huge risk because nobody knows where it’s going to go. But if I don’t do it quickly, somebody else is going to do it.”
Top Tank finalists
Starting Dec. 11, The Capital-Journal has highlighted the Top Tank top 10, talking with the entrepreneurs about their business andhow they envision their future.
The Top Tank $100,000 winner will be revealed Feb. 17 during a celebration at the Topeka Performing Arts Center.