Drone crush of the Week: Zimbabwe Flying Labs and Integrated Aerial Systems

We know it took them a lot of guts, man hours and fumbling through the dark to get to where they are today.

And before you say it, we know there are a lot of drone technology entrepreneurships that went under before they had time to see the light of day. You can imagine just how tough it is to gain acceptance when you introduce a technology that literally did not exist a few years ago; an industry where the average age of a company is five years.

But then there are days like today, days when it all comes together; days when it just feels like there is no better place to be than in the drone business.

It will certainly feel that way for two start-ups in particular – Integrated Aerial Systems in South Africa and Precision Aerial in Zimbabwe – whose proprietors were recent recipients of prestigious international gongs, in recognition for their efforts in making the world a better place through drone technology.

Perhaps what speaks volumes about the quality of these ventures more than any words can, is how they managed to beat thousands of other hopeful start-ups from hundreds of countries, with their drone-based solutions to two of Africa’s biggest challenges – education and food security.

When they say drones are good, this is what they are talking about.

In Zimbabwe, Tawanda Chihambakwe founded Precision Aerial, a drone services company which he dreamed would bring a drone to every appropriate problem in various industries – agriculture, mining, survey and mapping among them.

His company handled a few humanitarian situations too, which included flying drones into the aftermath of a cyclone in the country’s Manicaland province.

But it was after they were approved as the Zimbabwean custodian of the Flying Labs franchise that the humanitarian nature of Precision Aerial’s business truly started taking root, for they started working on projects for societal good – and one of those humanitarian projects was incorporating drone technology in STEM education.

Around April this year, Tawanda Chihambakwe entered his educational drone idea into the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Creative Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Africa and Middle East region, which resulted in him being announced the winner last week.

The JCI is a non-profit organisation comprising a community of young entrepreneurs working to improve their localities through projects, events, training and programs. Their inaugural CYE 2021 competition was created to encourage, honour and celebrate exceptional young entrepreneurs and the role of innovation in their entrepreneurial climb to global success.

Which was a perfect fit for Tawanda’s solution to Zimbabwean children’s STEM education challenges.

“The mission of Drones in STEM Education is to transform the drone technology environment by educating and training people and organisations about drone technology and how to leverage it to make hazardous work safer for people and increase operational efficiency,” Tawanda said of his project. “My company aims to develop new mindsets for young, budding STEM leaders by targeting two specific age groups: primary school ages (seven to twelve years old) and high school ages (thirteen to eighteen years old).

“Through collaboration with Zimbabwe Flying Labs and Precision Aerial, we will make sure to provide industry-specific services such as commercial and educational drone services, consultancy and training. Growth in this specific niche area of youth education will involve four key pillars: a drone training program, drone pilot instructors license, marketing and capital investment.”

In the final round, the Drone STEM project had to shrug off competition from a Waste-to-Wealth project (using waste material to produce ecological concrete, among other products) by Moussa Thiam of Mali; and another one from Ibraheem Tiamiyu (Nigeria), which produces medicines for people at a fraction of the normal cost.  

Tawanda’s triumph was accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize.

Meanwhile, Integrated Aerial Systems (IAS) was named among the 50 winners of the “Best Small Business: Good Food for All” competition, which seeks to recognise small businesses for their contributions to healthier, more sustainable and equitable food for the communities they serve; the strength of their vision for the future; and how well they communicate the current and future impact of their business.

Based in Cape Town, IAS provides agricultural drone solutions to farmers, through integrating services like drone-based crop spraying with intelligent data analytics. The company’s solutions help farmers detect exactly where and how much of their crop is impacted; and therefore, target the affected area with precise crop spraying by drone.

“This provides the farmer an unparalleled look into their operation and ensuring reduced costs, increased yields and less impact on the environment whilst creating new job opportunities,” the company says. “By incorporating drone-based precision-spraying methods farmers are able to greatly reduce pesticide drift and thus there is less impact on agroecosystems and the creatures, and plants, that inhabit them.”

Held in conjunction with the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the competition will distribute a cash prize of $100,000 among the winners, ten of whom are from Europe and Central Asia; thirteen from Africa and Middle East; ten from East Asia and Pacific; eight from South Asia; and nine North and Latin America.

“These food SMEs are quiet revolutionaries,” the UNFSS said. “Their founders embody an ascending world-wide cohort of passionate, values-driven, innovative food entrepreneurs. Half are youth and nearly half are women.

“Despite their importance to the future of food, small businesses are too rarely heard on the international stage. This competition, which included a survey, captured their ambition and needs. With a conducive business environment, positive incentives, and greater influence, SMEs can deliver a more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient food system.”

Congratulations to you two. You earned it. we are crushing on you this week, because you are the refreshing proof that young Africans can take the challenges of the food security and educational concerns this continent has faced for so long head on and actually win, provided they get the support they need.

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