There are thousands of drone startups out there that you could be following, but these five in particular have proven their potential. If you’re looking for the top drone startups in 2024, these five would very likely be it.
At least that’s according to GENIUS NY, a business accelerator program based in Syracuse, New York that hosts an annual startup competition. GENIUS NY also claims to be the world’s largest UAS accelerator.
As part of the competition, hundreds of startups pitch their business, vying for a chance to receive funding alongside other business support. Up for grabs is $3 million in total investment from New York State, spread out over a handful of companies who are semi-finalists, finalists and a grand prize winner.
And in October 2023, GENIUS NY named the startups that are set to receive that money. This is the seventh year of the competition, in which the finalists pitched their business to a crowd of hundreds of people and a panel of judges Here are the 2023 GENIUS NY finalists, which includes one grand prize winner:
1. Blueflite (grand prize winner of the $1 million prize)
Blueflite is a drone-based logistics platform that stands out for its patented, unique, and all-electrical drone design. Blueflite makes an eVTOL (vertical take-off and landing) drone designed for commercial operations.
Because Blueflte was the grand prize winner, it’ll take up operations in Syracuse, New York.
“In Syracuse, we’ve discovered a unique ecosystem perfectly suited for blueflite’s ambitions,” said blueflite cofounder Frank Noppel in a prepared statement. “We’ve found an opportunity to collaborate with top-tier manufacturing facilities for batch production using advanced 3D printing technology while adhering to the most stringent aerospace standards.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Blueflite has already found partners in past GENIUS NY finalists. That includes Wonder Robotics, whom Blueflite is working with to launch delivery drones, as well as AVSS, who is working as a partner for innovation and drone safety.
Sure, Blueflite was the grand prize winner. But, the following four companies will split a prize pool of $3 million, as part of their involvement with GENIUS NY. Here are those companies, named below in alphabetical order:
Aloft provides software solutions for individual aircraft and full fleet management to make drone operation safer and more valuable. Aloft is one of the more established companies, having originally been known as Kittyhawk until it was rebranded as Aloft in 2021
Aloft is perhaps most well known as the company powering the FAA’s B4UFLY app. It also builds LAANC authorization software. This time last year, Aloft announced that it had recorded a milestone half a million LAANC authorizations. And it only took about a year to double that figure, as the company announced it clocked a million authorizations n September 2023.
As a recipient of the $500,000 in funds, Aloft, which previously was based in San Francisco, will be moving to Syracuse.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Syracuse,” said Aloft founder Josh Ziering. “It’s why we’re moving the whole company here. If we wanted to do it, now’s the time, and if we wanted to be in a certain place Syracuse is the spot. We’re looking forward to growing our team here and ultimately building out. Syracuse is the tip of the spear for Aloft.”
Greenjets creates electric propulsors that make drones safer, quieter and more sustainable. While the company originally was based in the United Kingdom, it will at least operate office spaces and host workshops at The Tech Garden in Downtown Syracuse through summer 2024.
“We see this as an invaluable tool for placing our current IPM products into the US market,” according to a statement from the company, adding that it intends to to meet and pitch to VCs every few weeks through next summer. Greenjets will also travel to various UAV/UAS conferences in the US along with Genius NY teams over the next 12 months.
Voltela provides software that ensures a reliable and consistent communication network for uncrewed aerial systems.
Voltela’s system is centered around a patented technology that leverages the prioritized voice channel for guaranteed low-latency drone communication via any mobile network, using a combination of off-the-shelf communication hardware and proprietary software.
VOTIX supplies a hardware-agnostic platform that enables drone automation, orchestration and remote operation. Originally based in Miami, Florida, the company uses a cloud-based system for many drone applications such as inspection, monitoring, mapping, surveying.
VOTIX claims to have built the first platform capable of truly delivering drone automation, orchestration and remote operation while being hardware agnostic.
What’s next for these 5 drone startups in 2024?
All of the five companies named above will be operating their business in Central New York for at least one year, as that’s part of the stipulations to get the funding.
But it could be a huge opportunity for those five drone startups in 2024. In addition to actual cash money for winning, the five companies named above receive incubator space, company resources, programming, business connections and mentoring — all thanks to the competition. This year’s winners will also get the added benefit of being able to work with Lorenzo Murzilli, who is a new partner to GENIUS NY and is widely known for his work as both an aerospace engineer and in developing EU drone regulations, U-space frameworks and the SORA methodology.
It’s all part of New York state’s big ambitions to be a leader in tech. And given that this is the seventh year of the GENIUS NY competition (the first one was back in 2017!), the state has doled out a combined $33 million through seven rounds of funding over the years, which includes $21 million in direct investment to the 37 GENIUS NY teams who can now hold the title as winner. The other $16.6 million is dispersed through ongoing investments for the expansion of CenterState CEO’s business incubator in downtown Syracuse to help grow its UAS industry efforts.
Beyond funding these five drone startups in 2024 as well as the previous winners, New York state has long been making major investments in the uncrewed aircraft systems industry, including an initial investment of $35 million to develop a 50-mile, UAS flight traffic management corridor. New York is also the site of the UTM Pilot Program Phase 2, and has been the site of other drone testing projects including drone parachutes. Being in such close proximity, the five companies named above will be able to take advantage of using tech like the drone corridor.
“These GENIUS NY teams are at the leading edge of their technologies and have demonstrated their strong potential for growth and success,” said Kara Jones, CenterState CEO director of GENIUS NY. “As market demands evolve and technology advances, these and other UAS companies have access to the most robust concentration of firms, infrastructure and investments anywhere in the country, here in New York.”