SkySkopes lands first FAA exemption for North Dakota startup

Grand Forks-based startup SkySkopes, which offers drone inspection of cellular towers, received the first FAA Section 333 exemption for a North Dakota startup on June 5.


After three months of working with Courtney Bateman at Reed Smith LLP, SkySkopes was able to quickly secure an exemption and can now operate commercially. Of the three FAA exemptions given to North Dakota businesses thus far, they are the first entrepreneurial endeavor, according to Bruce Gjovig, Director at the Center for Innovation where SkySkopes is headquartered.

“The future of this industry is unfolding before our eyes with the development of these innovative tech startups beginning to flourish,” Gjovig said.

Who is SkySkopes? SkySkopes

SkySkopes, formerly Snowy Owl Productions,  primarily offers cell-tower inspections, using high fidelity imaging services on drones to monitor the equipment. Already they have contracted to work with Dell-Comm, an underground cabling and cell tower technician company.


“There’s a lot of value in having a drone do the inspecting rather than having a person climb the tower,” said SkySkopes CEO, Matt Dunlevy, who started the company in October 2014.

In addition to inspection services, Dunlevy said, they also plan to do work in real estate, promotional videos – perhaps for Senator Hoeven, they said – while continuing to offer research and training programs as well.


Dunlevy, who has been an avid aviation fan since his days building plastic airplanes, started up SkySkopes because – as so many have – he recognized opportunity within the drone industry.

“As entrepreneurs, you like to go where the wind blows sometimes,” he said. “The prevailing wind…was that drones look really attractive. There’s so much potential in the industry.”

Dunlevy has previously started a handful of tech startups, and teaches New Product Development, Concept Generation, Technology Entrepreneurship, and Digital Entrepreneurship at UND. Starting SkySkopes, he said, “is a way to put my money where my mouth is.”


Building out of Grand Forks, he added, has been an ideal place to start business.

“If the drone industry is like the Wild West, then Grand Forks is Dodge City,” he said. “This is the drone city.”

SkySkopes Vice President Jack Wilcox said that being in close proximity to Grand Sky, a newly opened unmanned aircraft airport which hosts Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and the like, is also a great resource. SkySkopes eventually hopes to have a spot there in the future, he said.

Next steps for SkySkopes

Now the team is planning to execute on their contract while also growing their three focuses of research, training, and operations. The team consists of Dunlevy, Jack “The Jack of Drones” Wilcox, Vice President, Connor Grafius, Chief Pilot, and Jon Puhl, Technology Officer [Pictured below, clockwise]. All four are past or present University of North Dakota students.

IMG_0527 IMG_0559IMG_0545 SkySkopes

They also have a board of advisors which they meet with regularly, who has been invaluable to their gaining an exemption, Dunlevy said. This includes Bruce Gjovig, Director of the Center for Innovation, Dr. Dennis Elbert, Dean Emertis at UND, Dr. Tim O’Keefe, Director of UND School of Entrepreneurship, Doug McDonald, author of Aerospace: An Industry Sector Poised for Flight, and Darrin Wixo, Senior Project Manager at Dell-Comm Inc.

For SkySkopes, Dunlevy said, receiving the exemption is exciting but is a also a sign that now, it’s time to work.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

Photos courtesy of SkySkopes.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

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