Drone manufacturer and Drone-As-A-Service (DAAS) start-up Garuda Aerospace is expecting to net $15 to $20 million dollars in equity when it closes its Series-A funding in two months.
Speaking exclusively to CNBC-TV18, Garuda Aerospace’s founder and CEO, Agnishwar Jayaprakash said these funds would be used to scale up and expand his company’s operations.
“We will close our Series-A round with 15 million to 20 million dollars in equity and 7 million to 10 million dollars in debt,” said Jayaprakash, “We have received interest from a large and well-known VC fund, and will look to deploy to these funds to scale up and ensure drone coverage in 775 districts across India.”
A few weeks ago, Garuda Aerospace secured $5 million in a bridge round courtesy of an unnamed infrastructure firm and high net-worth individuals (HNIs). Earlier, it secured a million dollars in a seed round of funding from a global fund based in the UK, according to Jayaprakash.
For Garuda, an urgent requirement for present-day fund deployment is towards skilling. “We will set aside investments towards skilling drone pilots, because we have a shortage of hands,” said Jayaprakash, “We have close to $1.8 billion worth of exclusivity contracts but no skilled drone pilots; we are unable to execute many of these contracts owing to an insufficient number of pilots.”
‘SWIGGY DRONE DELIVERIES IN TWO MONTHS’
Earlier this year, Garuda Aerospace made headlines when the company announced that it had begun testing of drone deliveries in partnership with Swiggy. The plan was to focus on the NCR and Bengaluru markets, in particular, to execute such deliveries.
However, a few months in, the Garuda Aerospace founder admits that while drone deliveries could become a reality soon, it would mostly be in rural markets owing to the lack of certain limitations.
“The Swiggy drone trials have revealed to us various ways of delivering food parcels, and we see potential for such deliveries in rural India as there are no electricity cables,” said Jayaprakash, “By the first quarter of next year, such delivers could become a reality.”
In this time, Garuda Aerospace has also launched newer versions of its ‘Garuda Kisan’ drones, and a ‘Vajra’ defence drone at the recently conducted Defence Expo. Former India cricket captain, MS Dhoni, invested in the company too (investment number undisclosed) and even had a drone, ‘Droni’, named after him.
Earlier today, Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, Anurag Thakur, turned drone pilot for a day as he took ‘Droni’ for a spin. The small drone comes with security and spraying capabilities, as it can cover 30 hectares of agricultural land in one go.
At Garuda, the focus continues to lie on product enhancement with a specific emphasis on payload, endurance and quality of sensors. Data embedding is also quickly turning out to be a lucrative segment, aside of agricultural, industrial inspection and defence applications.
‘WANT TO BE THE UBER OF DRONES’
Even as Jayaprakash and his team at Garuda Aerospace pore over their next project — they’re designing a 5G-enabled drone to “revolutionize” telecommunications in rural India — the DAAS space is one that excites them in so far as rural demand is concerned.
“We want to be the Uber of Drones as far as farm demand is concerned,” said Jayaprakash, adding that enlisting of drone services in fertilizer and pesticide spraying could give a fillip to farming activity, and become a win-win for farmer and drone operator alike.
“At the end of the day, we want to keep our business model asset-light, market-agnostic and recession proof,” he said, “Today, we make 24 to 26 percent gross margins on every drone sold, and about 18 to 20 percent margins on every farm acre sprayed.”
He pointed out that while the centre has acknowledged that agricultural spraying operations alone could well be a three-billion-dollar market, there is potential to grow further as companies approach drone applications like logistics services and moving of produce to and from hillside farmlands.
In keeping with rural applications, the 5G-enabled drone that is presently work-in-progress could also double up as a promising piece of tech. “Drone technology can help 5 to 6 lakh villages get connected through 5G technology,” Jayaprakash said.
Today, Garuda Aerospace has an order book of 8,000 drones scheduled to be shipped in the next two months, and is on track to hit a valuation of Rs 50,000 crore in the next two years.