How a Prototype Helped Local Entrepreneurs to Launch the World’s Friendliest Guided Missile
Shanaz Siqouin grew up on the small island in Guyana. She was the youngest of 9 children. Her bustling family ran a small business and she learned very early on in life the importance of knowing how to deliver a message effectively. She was exposed to practically every type of customer, supplier, and employee you can imagine.
Over her career, Shanaz coupled this street-sense with a formal education in business administration from Algonquin College. She applied her business skills in a variety of roles in industries ranging from multinational high-tech firms and government to not-for-profits and startup companies throughout her career. However, an entrepreneurial spirit was ingrained in her from an early age and informed her career path throughout her life.
Ottawa native Rick Whittaker shares the same entrepreneurial spirit. He received a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo. During his career, Rick led initiatives in product development and managed several advanced technology investment programs. Initiating several patents on these technologies that are currently in production, he has successfully launched four startups. Rick also has a passion for flight. He’s a trained pilot who particularly enjoys building model rockets with his son.
Fortunately, in 2016 fate brought Rick and Shanaz together to found the Ottawa-based tech company AirShare. The collaboration of two entrepreneurial minds, paired with the knowledge and interest in aviation, birthed the “world’s friendliest guided missile,” a product that safely and cost-effectively removes drone threats.
Their journey from startup to scale-up began at Invest Ottawa (IO) in 2017. Bayview Yards Prototyping Lab (BYPL) was an integral resource in the development of their product as it is today.
Rick conceived the idea for a drone dismantler in response to an instinctive reaction. He knew that drones posed a security risk to commercial aircrafts. These small devices have the potential to create life-threatening incursions with passenger aircraft. Rick himself had experienced engine failures and knew the devastating impact a drone could have.
The use of drones for malicious attacks is alarming and the problem is only getting worse. Globally, allied forces combat these elusive adversaries every single day. Conventional approaches have unacceptable collateral approaches in today’s urban combat zones. To address this issue, the founders of AirShare developed a safer solution.
This video depicts the threat drones pose to aircrafts and the launch of the Airshare counter-drone solution (Interceptor UX):
Leveraging Rick and his son’s shared love of model rockets, they started with the idea of using a hobby rocket design to build a low-cost device to deliver their patent-pending drone disabling countermeasures. Rick knew they could use innovative technology to do the job in a safe, non-threatening way – one that didn’t create collateral damage. Today, their product does just that. The AirShare team invented a counter-drone solution that detects, tracks, and safely mitigates drones flying in restricted areas. It’s a missile capable of flying close in proximity to any drone. Once it’s close, it deploys a large cloud of latex countermeasures that tangles the propeller of the drone and brings it safely to the ground.
Rick Whittaker, founder of AirShare, discusses his innovative solution to dangerous drones at Invest Ottawa’s annual event AccelerateOTT (2018):
In 2018, AirShare was accepted into the IO Accelerator program which is designed to systematically and rapidly accelerate the growth and development of promising startups. Since then, their team has been able to develop their product design while simultaneously building a solid business foundation to scale. Through the program, Shanaz and Rick have had access to expert advisors, and have been guided through mentorship, participating in peer groups, and a step-by-step approach to validating their idea.
When asked about AirShare’s initial decision to apply and join the Accelerator program and the Bayview Yards’ community, Shanaz shared, “When you first start a company it’s a lonely journey. You sit by yourself [or with your co-founder] and you don’t know where to start…coming to Invest Ottawa we met with so many brilliant people who have really helped connect us in every way.”
In addition to mentorship and support, AirShare has accessed the Invest Ottawa Market Insights service. The Market Insights team provided valuable information and empowered AirShare with research that captured industry trends and market analyses. This support helped position their product competitively in the current landscape. Furthermore, through participating in the ENCQOR 5G Program, the team received open access to state-of-the-art 5G infrastructure and technology that enabled their product’s pre-commercial development, testing and demonstration. AirShare raised less than $1 million dollars in venture financing—funding the growth of the organization through revenue-generating contracts.
Bayview Yards Prototyping Lab (BYPL)
Rick and Shanaz engaged the Bayview Yards Prototyping Lab throughout the various stages of their product development. The team provided a collaborative and personalized approach to guide them towards the most viable solution to their identified problem. BYPL helped to guide AirShare through every phase of the prototyping journey – from initial product and design strategy to detailed design, implementation, iteration and validation.
Rick affirmed, “the Bayview Yards Prototyping Lab does it all. There are few firms that do that, even fewer in Ottawa. The services provided were cost-effective and efficient. We received incredible value; BYPL’s expertise made the difference in the success of our product. We wouldn’t have secured contracts and met our deliverables and timelines without their partnership. I would recommend their services to any aspiring entrepreneurs or small business owners.” Rick highlighted the BYPL culture, describing it as solution-oriented, personalized and approachable. He noted that working with a team who has a “can-do attitude” is essential for early-stage entrepreneurs. AirShare continues to engage BYPL when looking for support in solving manufacturing challenges.
Concept & Idea Validation
AirShare accessed both industrial and mechanical design services to validate their concept, polish their approach to addressing challenges, and through advanced secondary research brought their design to fruition. When reflecting on this, Rick noted the importance of functionality, quality, and usability when designing a product. He commends the quality of the team’s attention to detail and personalized method. Collaborative problem solving proved to be a key component of the process.
Design & Build
At BYPL, the fabrication process includes the opportunity to work closely with a team of skilled designers and fabrication experts. AirShare was able to experiment alongside the BYPL team to test out various designs of their product. They trialled different materials and design solutions, and it ultimately strengthened their overall final product.
While the fabrication team relied upon specialty computer numerical control (CNC) machines such as the water jet cutter to build parts for the product, it was the opportunity for rapid prototyping offered by the onsite 3D printers that really helped bolster their success By 3D printing their prototype through an iterative process, AirShare could experiment with different materials and design adaptations, which not only optimized quality and performance, but reduced research and development risk, expenses, and future hurdles.
Content creation is critical to bringing any company’s brand story to life. AirShare leaned on the BYPL’s digital storytelling services to professionally market and position their product to partners and investors. BYPL developed exceptional collateral, taking professional product photos, and developing teaser videos to effectively communicate the startup’s value proposition.
Rick, Shanaz and their team have brought their innovation to market with various clients such as Canada’s DND, the US Air Force, as well as high-profile commercial installations. To date, AirShare has generated over $2 million in revenue and has built a team of 21 full-time employees. They continue to grow their business at a rapid speed and their relationship with BYPL remains a consistent resource for ongoing fabrication and 3D printing needs they encounter. We look forward to seeing their successes and impact from Ottawa.
The image above was taken during one of AirShare’s live-fire tests of its Block 1A optical seeking counter-drone guided missile. This is the safest way to detect, confirm, track, and remove a drone that is posing a threat to people or infrastructure below without creating collateral damage. This variant of AirShare’s Interceptor-UX uses designs that originated in BYPL and produced using an advanced 3D printing process from one of BYPL’s key suppliers.
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