Despite its reputation as the frozen tundra, North Dakota’s new potential as “the drone state” is making it fertile ground for startups in the UAS industry.
Stuart Rudolph, a self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” and native Bostonian, saw it as the ideal spot to launch his fourth company, Smart C2. Their main product is a browser-based software called VirtualAirBoss, which manages data in the commercial aviation business – both manned and unmanned.
“Not many times in ones life do you get a chance to be on the cutting edge of a change,” Rudolph said. “That’s how I see the drone unmanned aircraft market. I started the company to do so.”
He and the rest of the Smart C2 team – including Janet Ahlgren, COO, and Gideon Moran, CTO – set up in Grand Forks. There they quickly made steps forward to build their company; Bruce Gjovig, founding Director of the UND Center for Innovation, joined their Board of Advisors, and they secured a distribution agreement with Itchimi-Asia, a Singapore-based distributor of German engineered UAVs.
This week, on Wednesday March 25, they signed their lease to expand to Fargo as well, and will be moving into the Incubator at North Dakota State University. (In fact, they will be neighbors a company of a similar name – C2Renew.)
“We believe in North Dakota,” Rudolph said. “Especially in this next generation of the unmanned aircraft industry. We feel very strongly about this state and the capabilities in the state.”
The VirtualAirBoss software
Rudolph and Ahlgren attended the Let’s Talk Drones meet-up as well, where Rudolph shared the capabilities of VirtualAirBoss. Its main feature is its ability to collect and manage end-to-end data for the business side of aviation; scheduling when and who is flying, mapping the flights, collecting images from those flights, etc.
“A client calls, and they [those in the aviation business] have to schedule everything – work, tools, crew – to solve the problem. You need to have the regulations, and accountability for everything you’ve done,” Rudolph said. “We allow them to click on a button, click on a calendar, and schedule all those components.”
Another startup in the UAS industry based in Grand Forks, Snowy Owl Productions, tested the BETA version of the VirtualAirBoss software and had positive reviews.
“From what we can tell, it’s a very, very useful tool,” said Snowy Owl President and CEO, Matt Dunlevy. “I can’t really see a way around it.”
Rudolph acknowledges that there are many competitors seeking to provide similar services. However, he sees the edge for Smart C2 in that they manage every aspect of a business without focusing on a particular part.
“There are people who do very good things for their customers, but not many people who do the end-to-end,” he said. “They don’t put it all together like we do.”
As for costs, the set-up right now is on a subscription basis and ranges from $50 to $75 per user, per month, according to Rudolph. Or, he said, you can pay $150K plus an annual service and maintenance fee, and license the whole system.
Smart C2 is currently hiring. They are looking for software developers, business development, sales and marketing representatives, and people with expertise in agriculture and energy fields.
Rudolph said he is especially excited to begin hiring in North Dakota, because one of the reasons he came here is “the quality of the people.”
“I really feel that it’s a rich environment for us to bring on those people…the work ethic is very high,” he said. “That’s why I am here. I’m a Bostonian that came to North Dakota to build a business.”
Learn more about Smart C2 here.
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels and Smart C2.