Tag: Startup

From Drones Beware to Flight Aware – AiP 005

Read Time: 2 minutes

As more and more drones take to the sky, and ambitions for drone delivery services and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations get ever-greater, the airspace is set to become increasingly congested. Concerns over hazards to commercial manned aviation are well-founded with calls for regulation. There are also concerns over privacy with drones flying above people and private property, or too close to restricted areas like airports and other critical infrastructure.

At the same time, regulators are cautioned not to introduce rules that will run roughshod over an emerging industry full of potential. A solution is needed to inform drone operators where they can and cannot fly, and allow for the safe integration of drones into the airspace – a solution called unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management, or UTM.

In this episode I speak with Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly, an award-winning software company that has developed such a solution – a platform for the safe integration of drones into the airspace. Of late, Unifly has been getting a lot of press, through its involvement in numerous demonstration in Europe and elsewhere, which has also created a lot of interest from VCs and potential customers – the CAAs and ANSPs.

Of course, there have been lessons learned along the way, from first needing to build a system for mission critical applications that is an open platform, upon which you can then start adding user interfaces. At the same time and most importantly – listen very carefully to the customer. And, as a ground-breaking company, one must be an evangelist and lead with a vision of the future when it comes to management of the airspace.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.

If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

To the City Hopper, Not the Chopper – AiP 004

Read Time: < 1 minute

Ever been frustrated by heavy traffic when you are in a rush to get to that all-important meeting? We all have! So, instead of being stuck in traffic gridlock, what if you could rise above it all, and quickly and comfortably fly to your urban destination in a 2-person pod the size of a Smart car?  That’s the idea behind Volocopter – an urban air taxi – and the brainchild of Alexander Zosel and Stephan Wolf, two entrepreneurs with a vision for urban air mobility. I guess the Jetsons must’ve influenced them!

In this episode I speak with Jan-Hendrik Boelens, chief technology officer at Volocopter, about the massive potential of urban aircraft systems, and the challenges that still lie ahead of the company as it moves towards commercial certification.

If you’re listening to this episode during your commute… maybe you’re stuck in traffic… take a look above you and imagine what it would be like to hop over it all!




If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Meeting a Medical Need with Speed – AiP 003

Read Time: < 1 minute

More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain or gaps in infrastructure. Over 2.9 million children under age five die every year due to a lack of access to vaccines and essential medicines. Up to 150,000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year if mothers had reliable access to safe blood. These are the sad truths that Zipline set out to address by rapidly delivering lifesaving medical products directly where they are needed.

In this interview I speak with Will Hetzler, Co-Founder and COO of Zipline, who I first met in Rwanda during the AviationAfrica Conference we were both speaking at in 2017. The California-based company has since expanded to Ghana and is actively being courted by VC’s and celebrities alike, like U2’s Bono!

Learn how this company has been pioneering delivery drone services in Africa, which could one day provide an essential service closer to your home.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.




If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Technology – AiP 002

Read Time: < 1 minute

Ever been stuck in a long line-up at airport security and wondered how it could be sped up? Eric Bergeron did, and so founded Optosecurity in 2003, which provided the world’s first and most deployed remote screening and centralized image processing solution that helps airports reduce costs, increase throughput, and enhance security. Optosecurity has recently been acquired by Vanderlande Industries, the global market leader in logistics process automation for airports, express delivery and warehousing.

Twelve years later, Eric was at it again with FlyScan, which provides automated, airborne leak detection services for the oil and gas pipeline industry. In recent years this sector has been at the forefront of political, environmental and economic debates due to highly publicized pipeline spills, which have made future pipeline project proposals contentious. Monitoring pipelines and detecting leaks quickly (even underground) can prevent these from becoming major environmental disasters.

In this episode I speak with Eric about his motivations, not only as an engineer and businessperson, but about what drives him as an innovator and how he works ahead of technology instead of behind it.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.



If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Welcome to the Aviation Innovation Podcast – AiP 001

profile_pic Read Time: < 1 minute


Welcome to the official launch of the Aviation Innovation Podcast, hosted by Eugene Hoeven! The show will interview the movers and shakers in the business today, the pioneers of yesterday, and bring you the stories of the innovators and entrepreneurs in our aviation industry.

Learn of the innovations and emergent technologies affecting aviation and air transport, the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship in our sector, as well as the strategies and tactics for success.

If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

From Drones Beware to Flight Aware with Unifly

Read Time: 12 minutes

Marc Kegelaers, CEO, Unifly – www.unifly.aero

How one company is raising the level of awareness in the airspace

As more and more drones take to the sky, and ambitions for drone delivery services and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations, the airspace will become increasingly congested. Concerns over hazards to commercial manned aviation are well-founded with calls for regulation. At the same time,  regulators are cautioned not to introduce rules that will run roughshod over an emerging industry full of potential. A solution is needed to inform drone operators where they can and cannot fly, and allow for the safe integration of drones into the airspace – a solution called UTM, or unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management.

In this installment of the Vantage Point interview series on innovation in aviation, I speak with Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly, an award-winning software company that has developed such a solution – a platform for the safe integration of drones into the airspace.

Q:  How did you initially come across the technology and the application of the technology that’s now Unifly?

My background is in aviation. I’m a flight instructor, and for 10 years I ran a flight school that trained professional pilots. While there, I started a department to train pilots for aircraft without pilots, i.e. drones. That was bringing in some publicity for the school, and at an exhibition in Asia, I came across a few young guys – air traffic controllers and a scientist – who had this idea for a traffic management system for drones. They already had a good prototype, which apparently had won some international prizes. They wanted to create a company and asked if I was prepared to be their CEO. I thought, “Well, this is a good idea!” I looked at the technology, what they were doing, and their plans and ambitions. That was in July three years ago, when I decided to join in as a CEO and shareholder. The company was started a month later, and two months after I started to work full time for Unifly. I had to unwind my function as CEO of the flight academy, so I handed that over to a successor, then started to work on the Unifly initiative full-time in October 2015.

Q:  We are experiencing a renaissance of innovation – digitalization, artificial intelligence, autonomization,…. How do you see Unifly within this broader picture of innovation and what’s going on outside of your immediate area of play?

I’d like to think that we are a ground-breaking company. We are very innovative. If you look at what is happening in the world, there’s a fourth Industrial Revolution going on whereby many activities will be driven by robotics and artificial intelligence. We are very much a part of that.

One of the key challenges that exists today is that you have this drone technology which is advancing at a very high pace – and everyone knows that drone technology and robotics are going to be very important – but specifically with drones, they are coming into a world where there is already a lot of traffic. Drones will have to comply with the regulations and rules of the aviation, so it remains safe.

The challenge we have, and I think the entire industry has, is that on one hand you have the world of aviation, which is very safety-driven, but air traffic controllers and pilots have never had to deal with drone operators. On the other hand, you have drone operators who have never been aware of the regulations and the rules that exist in aviation that make it very safe, who now want to have access to the airspace. So we have two different worlds: one relatively conservative world driven by safety, and another world which is innovative and moving very fast, not fully aware of all of the safety rules. Marrying those two totally different worlds, that’s the big challenge. But it’s now happening in aviation, and I’m sure that will happen everywhere in the world.

Look at all the challenges that are now present in the world of autonomous cars, for instance. The technology exists for cars to be driven autonomously, but how do you mix the traffic of autonomous cars with the traffic of non-autonomous cars? That’s the big challenge. In the world of aviation, we are addressing this challenge.

Q:  How do you bridge those two worlds? Does it require a change in mindset that the more traditional industries have adopted over time, or do you see the innovators having to adopt a different mindset?

It’s both. Every traditional industry has its way of doing things, which work fine. The aviation industry is very safety-minded, with good ATM (air traffic management) systems and so on and so forth, and that works fine. Now with new technology, there’s this mindset that needs to change.

Two years ago, I was at a big conference where you had CEOs of large ATM organizations, and questions were asked of the audience. One of the questions was, “Do you think technology will change the nature of your industry within the next 20 years?” I was baffled to hear one-third of the audience say, “No, we don’t think that technology will change the nature of our industry.” That, to me, says that within those classical industries, there’s still a mindset among people who do not see that there’s a lot of technology out there that can actually help them become better and automate more processes. And not only in the aviation industry – I think in many traditional industries that’s the case.

Q:  Indeed, we’ve seen the same in the car industry, until Elon Musk came along and introduced the concept of the electronic car and things started to change. Even going back to telecommunications, you had the postal, telegraph, and telephone service (or PTT) – monopoly service providers that the public was not at all happy with for the level of service and the cost. I think, only when that industry was deregulated, have we seen the kind of things that we now have, our smartphones and so forth. Do you see that kind of institutional deregulation having to take place to make real change happen in aviation? Particularly, I’m thinking about ATM and the interfacing between ATM and UTM

It will take place. What is happening is that we, as a company, are creating the technology to provide highly automated air traffic management for large amounts of autonomous devices. That’s what we’re doing. That’s where we’re going with our technology. Once you’ve done that with large numbers of autonomous drones flying in very difficult airspace, low level airspace, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that you could actually take that technology and start using it for traditional manned aviation. My guess, and I think this will happen, is that the technology we’re building now will gradually – not overnight, but gradually – find its way into the management of manned aviation.

The technology we’re using is vested in Internet technology, which makes a UTM system much more affordable and accessible than an ATM system. The technological change that happened in the telecommunications industry about 30 years ago is starting to happen in the world of aviation. The transformation will be a bit slower than what happened in telecommunications because of the safety aspect. You must be very careful that you do not innovate as rapidly as in the telecommunications industry, because you still have manned aviation transporting large numbers of people in the air. You cannot afford to have accidents. In the telecommunications industry, if you lose a data packet, well, you lose a packet. There’s no harm there. The software will say, “Oh, I lost a packet,” and it will send a new packet. In manned aviation, you cannot lose an airplane. That’s why the transition will be a bit slower, but it will come for sure.

Q:  When we look at the softer side of things – the people element – I would hazard to guess that the way Unifly is organized and how you do things is quite different from a traditional ATM technology company or an air navigation service provider. Aside from the technology, it’s also about people and how we work to get things done. I’m thinking particularly in terms of a more agile approach to software development that’s now permeating to other areas of the business. Do you see change taking place in that area as well?

Yes. To ask me purely from the perspective of the man/machine interface and the world of air traffic management, the user interfaces all assume that the person that is manning the systems has had years of training and is an ATM professional. That means it can be very complex, because the person has been trained.

Now in the world of UTM, you are interfacing with a world of people that have no knowledge, or very limited knowledge, of aviation and air traffic management. Still, you want to give them the same information as is now being used in the world of manned aviation, but in a very, very user-friendly manner. That’s one of the big transformations we are making happen.

Also, in the ATM industry or the aviation industry in general, it is expected that the number of flights will double between now and 2030. Already today we’re seeing record numbers of flights flying through the airspace, which puts a strain on the entire ATM system, because all the procedures in the world of air traffic management are manual procedures and involve people talking to people. The growth of manned aviation will require much more automation than is currently the case, and we’re building the foundation for this with UTM. So, it’s interesting times ahead.

From a development point of view, we use agile software methodology, the same methodologies as are used in developing Internet-type applications. In very short turnaround times, we use a Spring Methodology that enables us to be very quick and still have very high quality.

Q:  So, when you’ve signed up with a new client, such as an ANSP, what would be the average turnaround time to provide them with the necessary tools to start managing, or having some oversight over drones in the airspace?

From a technology point of view, not very much. The fastest we’ve done this is about six weeks. The challenge really is with the organization itself. One of the challenges that an ANSP or CAA (civil aviation authority) has is the processing of flight plans for flight approvals. There is a flight plan system that is used in manned aviation, and it involves a manual process – your flight plan gets looked at by someone, and that someone approves it. That’s based on a certain number of flights per day, per week, and so on.

Now with drones, what we’ve seen initially is that the ANSPs and the CAAs have wanted to use their existing processes of flight approvals and apply that to drones as well. But, guess what? They did not anticipate that the number of requests for drone operations would be much, much, much higher than the number for manned aviation. So, what we are providing are the tools to automate a lot of the processes within an ANSP and a CAA. However, the organization has to accept it and processes have to be created or modified so that they can work with these new tools. The delays we see, or the length of time it takes to implement our software, is not technology-related, and we already have quite a bit of technology available. It’s about presenting the technology to the client, having them work with the technology, and for their organization to define internal processes to make sure that they can use the technology as often as possible. That’s the challenge we have. Typically, we work with an ANSP, and they use our systems for a while in tests and trials – not to test and trial the technology itself, because it works – but to test and trial their internal procedures, to decide who will do what and who will have what responsibility, and how to manage the different users of the system.

Q:  Would you say that it’s then a bit of a journey for the two partners – Unifly and the client – towards solutions that are needed as part of an iterative process? In other words, there is a tendency within traditional businesses to want to buy a complete system or a complete solution as opposed to pursuing a more agile methodology of iterative testing and development. Is this mindset something you’re up against with some of the more traditional organizations you deal with?

No, in fact what we have is a complete system. But, implementing a complete system is a big, big task and we’ve created a methodology to implement the system in phases. The first phase is always, get the public informed about aviation rules and regulations, and where a drone operator can and cannot fly. That’s something that can be turned around very, very quickly. That’s usually the first phase.

The next phase is getting people to issue flight plans. We build function after function so that ultimately you get a full-blown system, possibly after a year or a year-and-a-half. The initial implementations can already be available after a few weeks. So, our experience is in fact that the ANSPs tend to want to work in a phased approach where they say, “Okay, in phase one we want to do this, then in phase two we want to do this.” The only problem with such an approach is that sometimes – as we’ve seen in other industries that have taken this approach – you can end up with piecemeal solutions. For example, just for providing information to operators they use one vendor, for tracking they use another vendor, and then for other functions, other vendors. So, they end up using isolated solutions for individual problems without thinking of the bigger picture. This usually means we have to convince an ANSP to think of the bigger picture and make sure all of the problems they want to solve are addressed in an integrated fashion rather than having a series of piecemeal solutions.

Q:  So, it’s really about the partnership relationship you build with your clients that is quite important. Having that trust there, I think would be a key issue for evolving the solutions that may need to be built. Would that be a true statement?

Yes, that’s very much a true statement. The entire process of implementing a complete UTM system with an ANSP is quite intense. Luckily we now have experience with several customers. We also are involved right now in several research programs in Europe that deal with UTM. We are seen as a company that knows about drone traffic management. We know about manned aviation because that’s the world we came from. So, we are seen by large organizations – ANSPs and CAAs – as a valuable partner that can actually bring a lot of value and knowhow to the table, helping them to tackle this quite complex UTM problem.

Q:  You’re not the only game in town, of course. There are other UTM providers. Do you see potentially, not necessarily a monopoly service provider model develop, but more of a competitive landscape where you have different systems within a certain geographic region – much like you have with the mobile phone networks where you’ve got a federation of systems able to interface with each other? Do you see that kind of a model develop eventually?

Ultimately, that will be the model, but it will take some time. The system and technology that we have developed takes that in mind. There will be in an area in a country, in a region, where there will be multiple UTM systems. So, we’ll be able to say, “Okay, I want to be a customer of A or B or C.” There will be different levels of service or different services that people can buy from different UTM service providers. Specifically, in the United States that is the model that has been chosen from day one. In Europe and other parts of the world, it’s first and foremost the ANSP that wants to make sure aviation safety is guaranteed, so they take the initiative. But ultimately, there will be a time when multiple UTM service providers will exist in a country. However, there will always be some level of oversight provided by the national aviation authority.

We must remember that the aviation authorities have the responsibility for ensuring the safety of the airspace. This responsibility does not just go away with the advent of drones. On the contrary, they now have an additional problem that they need to solve. Some ANSPs have taken the view that the only thing they want is to ensure everyone has a same exact aeronautical data, and that the ANSP does the coordination with manned aviation and all drone operator interfacing would be done by the UTM service provider. Other ANSPs have said “no” to this from the beginning, and that they want to do all of the interfacing with the drone operators as well.

Q:  It’s been an interesting ride so far, but I’m sure there have been some real challenges along the way. What are some of the lessons learned that have resulted in a different approach than originally thought?

So far, the trajectory has been quite unique in the sense that what we set out to do from the beginning, we are still thinking of doing that. One of the biggest lessons we’ve had is that initially when we started the company, we wanted to build, first of all, a product for the drone users to do planning and so on so forth, but we saw very quickly that that was not the best approach.

The best approach was that first and foremost we have to have a good, solid backbone that will be able to process large amounts of information, and be able to process that information in real time as the system for mission critical applications. Once you have that and you’ve created that as an open platform, then you start adding user interfaces. That’s something we learned after a few months. It’s having that very solid backbone – that open platform – that made us quite successful.

The other thing that we’ve learned is – listen to the customer, listen very carefully to what he wants because he’s very clever. We also learned that as a ground-breaking company – a very innovative company – you must be an evangelist. This is new technology and we’re probably the first to build a lot of experience in UTM. I think one of the roles that we have as a company is to say, “Okay, the management of drones is a very complex thing to do, but these are the ways to do it.”

Q:  You continue to get a lot of interest, I suspect, from other entrepreneurs, but also from venture capital. How does that aspect of the business look for you?

Yes, we get a lot of press, and a lot of interest from potential customers. We literally have contacts all over the world. We get contacted by VCs quite a bit who would like to invest in our company, and by universities and such, who invite me to speak about what we do, how to create an innovative company, and how we get the message out to potential customers all over the world.

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My Top Reads of 2017

Read Time: 7 minutes

As 2017 draws to a close, I reflected on some of the books I’ve read that offered new insights and perspectives on life and career. Here are the 10 must-reads I believe have the potential to transform your life and take your business to the next level.

  1. Principles: Life and Work, by Ray Dalio – September 19, 2017

In 1975, Ray Dalio founded an investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history. Along the way, Dalio discovered a set of unique principles that have led to Bridgewater’s exceptionally effective culture, which he describes as “an idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency.” It is these principles – and not anything special about Dalio – that he believes are the reason behind his success. The book’s practical lessons, which are built around his cornerstones of “radical truth” and “radical transparency,” include the most effective ways for individuals and organizations to make decisions, approach challenges, and build strong teams. Principles offers a clear, straightforward approach to decision-making that Dalio believes anyone can apply, no matter what they’re seeking to achieve.

  1. Superconnect: Harnessing the Power of Networks and the Strength of Weak Links, by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood – August 2, 2011

What’s so special about the rich and famous? Unusually successful people often think they’ve done well because of their talent or luck – or simple grit and hard work. But individual characteristics matter far less than the social connections we exploit. And counterintuitively, it’s our weak links — your neighbour’s landscaper or that ad agency guy you happened to meet at your sister’s birthday party last year — that matter most of all. Drawing on research from the fields of sociology, mathematics, and physics, internationally bestselling author and entrepreneur Richard Koch and his co-author Greg Lockwood show how networks impact our everyday lives. Rich with entertaining anecdotes and written in Richard Koch’s trademark conversational style, Superconnect reveals the hidden patterns behind everyday events. Most importantly, it shows how any of us can increase the chances of happy outcomes in our own lives, careers, or businesses.

  1. Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, by Paul Zak – January 27, 2017

For decades, alarms have sounded about declining employee engagement. Yet companies continue to struggle with toxic cultures, and the low productivity and unhappiness that go with them. Why is ‘culture’ so difficult to change and improve? What makes so many good employees check out? Neuroscientist Paul Zak shows that innate brain functions hold the answers, and it all boils down to trust. When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle, which is-the key to changing stubborn workplace patterns. Drawing on his original research, Zak teases out science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations. Whereas employee engagement programs and monetary rewards are merely Band-Aid solutions, Trust Factor opens a window on how brain chemicals affect behavior, why trust gets squashed, and ways to consciously stimulate it by celebrating effort, sharing information, promoting ownership, and more.

  1. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek – May 23, 2017

Imagine a world where almost everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued during the day, then returns home feeling fulfilled. This is not a crazy, idealized notion. Today, in many successful organizations, great leaders create environments in which people naturally work together to do remarkable things. In his work with organizations around the world, Simon Sinek noticed that some teams trust each other so deeply that they would literally put their lives on the line for each other. Other teams, no matter what incentives are offered, are doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure. Why? The answer became clear during a conversation with a Marine Corps general. “Officers eat last,” he said. Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care. From the author and motivational speaker who brought us the bestseller “Start With Why”, Sinek illustrates his ideas with fascinating true stories that range from the military to big business, from government to investment banking.

  1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, by Phil Knight – April 26, 2016

In this candid and riveting memoir, Phil Knight – the man behind the swoosh – shares the inside story of his company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. In 1962, fresh out of business school and determined to start his own business, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion. In his book, Knight details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream, and recalls the formative relationships with his first partners and employees, a ragtag group of misfits and seekers who harnessed the power of a shared mission and a deep belief in the spirit of sport. In an age of start-ups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all start-ups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today. It also brought back memories of my own years as a high school track athlete and cross-country runner.

  1. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant – February 7, 2017

In Originals, Adam Grant addresses the challenge of improving the world, from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. The take-away is a set of ground-breaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.

  1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz – March 4, 2014

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a start-up — some practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business schools do not cover. While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. This book is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures.

  1. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell – January 7, 2002

The initial inspiration for Gladwell’s first book came from the sudden drop of crime in New York City, in which he sought to explain similar phenomena through the lens of epidemiology. While a reporter for The Washington Post, Gladwell covered the AIDS epidemic and took notice that epidemiologists had a “strikingly different way of looking at the world”. The term “tipping point” comes from the moment in an epidemic when the virus reaches critical mass and begins to spread at a much higher rate. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold – or tips – and spreads like wildfire, and it has changed the way people think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

  1. Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers – January 15, 2008

Presence is an intimate look at the nature of transformational change – how it arises, and the fresh possibilities it offers a world dangerously out of balance. The book introduces the idea of “presence” – a concept borrowed from the natural world that the whole is entirely present in any of its parts – to the worlds of business, education, government, and leadership. Too often, the authors found, we remain stuck in old patterns of seeing and acting. By encouraging deeper levels of learning, we can create an awareness of the larger whole, leading to actions that can help to shape its evolution and our future. The book goes on to define the capabilities that underlie our ability to see, sense, and realize new possibilities – in ourselves, in our institutions and organizations, and in society itself. Presence is both revolutionary in its exploration and hopeful in its message.

  1. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari – October 31, 2017

From the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind comes an extraordinary new book that explores the future of the human species. Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set for ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? The book explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. And, it asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus (the human God.)

Entrepreneurs: Don’t fall in love with your technology

Read Time: 10 minutes

Eric Bergeron, Founder – Optosecurity and Founder & CEO – FlyScan

Fall in love with your customers to solve a need. The rest will come naturally

Ever been stuck in a long line-up at airport security and wondered how it could be sped up? Eric Bergeron did, and so founded Optosecurity in 2003, which provides the world’s first and most deployed remote screening and centralized image processing solution that helps airports reduce costs, increase throughput, and enhance security. Optosecurity has recently been acquired by Vanderlande Industries, the global market leader in logistics process automation for airports, express delivery and warehousing.  Twelve years later, Eric was at it again with FlyScan, which provides automated, airborne leak detection services for the oil and gas pipeline industry. In recent years this sector has been at the forefront of political, environmental and economic debates due to highly publicized pipeline spills, which have made future pipeline project proposals contentious. Monitoring pipelines and detecting leaks quickly (even underground) can prevent these from becoming major environmental disasters.

Q:   What drives you? What’s your vision?

I’m one of those rare breeds. I’m an engineer, but I’m not an engineer in the typical sense that most engineers are; conservative people, who look at data only. I’m more entrepreneurial, driven by gut feeling; an engineer by training, but first and foremost, I’m a business guy. When I did my engineering studies in the 90’s, I already knew I was going to be a businessman, not a researcher or an engineer in a big company. I preferred to learn engineering at school, and then learn financial mathematics after, rather than the other way around where you do a business degree and then people try to explain to you quantum physics and you’re clueless. I preferred to do the hard part first, and then the easier part… when you’ve done nuclear physics, financial math is a joke after that.

I love technology. There needs to be a high content of technology in the business. That’s what excites me. That being said, I’m a very versatile person. The first 12 years of my life I was in telecommunications, the second 12 years of my life I was in airport security with Optosecurity, and now I’m entering the pipeline integrity phase of my career with FlyScan. So, this is the third phase of my career, right now.

Q:   Is there a common thread between those different phases?

A common thread is solving a need. Solving a problem in the industry, and doing it with a high-tech solution that nobody else has done before. I like to be a pioneer. I like to be a first mover, even though it typically means receiving all the arrows and daggers in the back. But still, I like to be at the front. I like to be at the leading edge of technology and business model. I like new technology, and I like new business models.

Q:   How do you find out what are some of the pain points or problems that need solving – that’s the essence of entrepreneurship, isn’t it?

Yes, the first time I did it was with Opto, which was more like a gut feeling – “let’s try that”. I think there was something, because it was like a year or two after 9/11, so security screening was a problem. I spoke to some people at the airport here in Quebec City and I saw that at the checkpoint they had no software to help detect a threat. So, my gut feeling was that, “hey, there’s something to be done here”. That was after I was introduced to the research center at INO in Quebec City, the National Optics Institute. I said, “Okay, you have a solution to recognize objects at high speed. They don’t have this at the airport security checkpoint, so I’m sure there’s something to do here.” It is very much like that for most entrepreneurs; like many, I’m sure I have ADHD, an impulsive personality, and gut feeling driven, so I said, “Okay, let’s do this.”

The second time around, I was much more disciplined. Maybe because of all the pain and the difficulty we had at Opto, which ended up successful, but it was rough. It was a rough ride at times. So the second time around, I met again with INO and they offered me a series of technologies, and I said, “This time around I will document first, if there’s a real need….. Not be an engineer who falls in love with technology, and that there must be something to do with it.”

This time I did it the other way around. So, when INO showed me a list of technologies the second time around they had just finished a project for an airborne sensor to detect oil pipeline leaks. So, before I really started FlyScan, I hired a consultant to do some research because I had money. I also went down to Houston, and met with CEO’s and VP’s of pipeline operators to document whether there was a real need. “Is this something that you would like to buy? Is this something that you need? And if you need it, do you already have it? Or, if you don’t have it, will you buy it?” The last question I asked them was, “do you care? Or, do you think it’s irrelevant? And finally, if you think you would never buy it, let me know right now, and I will move on to something else.”

So, the second time around I had a gut feeling, but I took the time and spent the money to validate if there was a real business need and I talked to the business decision-makers,…. for whom technology doesn’t matter; what matters is the end result. I asked them, “Do you have that? And if you don’t have that, will you buy it?” So that’s what I did the second time around.

Q:   This is the second startup for you – what are some of the key challenges to running a startup?

The first one, of course, is to find your purpose. So, what is your purpose? When you start a company, you start a company for a reason, not just because it’s cool. So, you must find a need that you wish to fulfill, the solution that you need to bring, for which there is no solution out there. Then you need to validate that, and once it’s validated, then you need to execute on building it, and selling it. What I found out is that technology is always cool. The hard thing is never the technology. The hard thing is raising the money, and then selling it. Sales is always the most difficult thing to do. The technology, if you mix talent and money together, it will work eventually. The hardest thing is to convince a customer that it’s worth taking money out of their pocket. When you start, you need to validate the market, talk to customers, and then put in place a financial plan to execute. So, where we are right now; we validated the market, we validated the technology, then I found the money, and now we are in the building phase, and we start the first test flights early next year.

At Opto, it was more like a technology push. My gut feeling was that the market would buy it if we built it. We built it, and the first solution was weapon detection – so gun detection in luggage – and we found out that it was more a nice to have, than a must have. Then we did liquid detection, and we found out that this was driven more by regulations, so airports didn’t really want to buy it. They would buy it if the regulator told them to buy it. We found out the hard way, and that this was a hard way to earn a living. Then we developed a remote screening product to save money for the airport, to increase the throughput, reduce the operating expenses, reduce the capital expenses, and we found out that this was what they wanted to buy, because it saved them money.

So, at my first company, it was a hard lesson learned – start with the business case, start with the money part, and then technology was secondary. The most important thing was solving the business need of the customer. More than, “Hey, I’m engineer, this is cool. Let’s build it and somebody will buy it.” And…. it always takes more time than you expect to sell anything. So, for the sales cycle, you must have a good padding, financially wise, to survive the long sales cycle. Especially in the airport market.

The second lesson learned is that it’s all about people, so hiring is extremely important. You must be sure to hire the right people. The biggest mistakes I’ve made have been in hiring either too many people too fast, and then hiring the wrong people. I also hired great people, and they are still with Opto. Over the years now, the most valuable lessons I learned were mostly related to human resources. It’s never been the technology so much…. hiring is extremely important. Firing is also extremely important. You must fire people quickly if you have any doubts.

I’m a big fan of this now – psychological testing and profiling – and it’s mandatory for hiring at FlyScan, because you want to have, as a team, people who are complimentary. You absolutely don’t want to hire people who are like you because then you will crash and burn. I’m the intuitive, impulsive type, and the last thing I need is a CFO who is intuitive and impulsive. I need somebody who is methodical, logical, like a Vulcan in Star Trek. That’s what I need to compliment me. If I’m a sales-driven guy – an outside-looking guy – I meet with customers and I meet with partners. Then, I need somebody who’s going to run the show in-house, and will manage the timelines, the projects.

So, as far as the steps, step zero there’s always the technical skill. But step one is the psychological complementarity of the team, in terms of style. You need a complimentary team, and then you need people with whom you will have fun. If you hire somebody who’s very aggressive and negative, it’s going to fail. If you hire somebody who’s controlling and he wants to take your job, it’s going to fail. You need to hire people who are complimentary to you in terms of skillset, in terms of style, and in terms of personality.

Q:   What do you see as being some of the biggest challenges in the aviation sector, when it comes to introduction and adoption of new technology?

Well, there are many factors. First of all, it’s a great industry. I love that industry and I’m still happy to be at Opto as a board member, because I like to follow what’s going on there, and there are great people in that industry. But there’s a big difference between North America and Europe. What works in Europe, will not necessarily work in North America. It’s changing now. You see today that airlines are aligned with airports, and airports and airlines are aligned with TSA, so I think we’re getting there. In the 90’s through to the late 2000’s there was a disconnect between the business drivers of the various stakeholders, as compared to Europe where these were much more aligned.

In Europe, the airports are privatized and business-, or profit-driven. They’re responsible for security and therefore they want to control the cost of security. So, if you come to them with a solution that saves them opex and capex, increases the throughput, increases retail revenue, they will love that. Because there’s an alignment of interests from the airport financial need, with the passenger need, with the airline need, and the security cost. In North America, in the recent past, there was a disconnect in business model between the security of the airport, and the needs of the airline, and the airport. For agencies in charge of checkpoint security, their goal was to find the bad guys, not to facilitate commerce at the airport. The airports did not control anything with regards to security technology at the checkpoint, not did the airlines – it was a nationalized approach. Today, I think the situation in North America is changing for the better.

Q:   Turning to FlyScan, drone technology is developing very fast and rapidly. Do you see that as the next step in terms of evolution of the product offering?

I think that drones are only a means to an end. They are not an end in themselves. What matters to the customer, once again, is that they don’t care about the technology, they care about the end result. They care if you can solve their business needs, so in the case of a pipeline, they want to find out if there’s a leak. They will not care if the leak detection is provided with a drone or a helicopter, or a satellite, or a guy walking on the line. It’s outcome based. They want to find the leak, and they want it to be fast and cheap. Then it becomes a question of, well how do you implement the delivery to make it fast and cheap? Drones, I think, are getting there, but I think that drones are cool for a short range punctual inspection. But, because of current regulations they are not there yet for long range, autonomous inspection. What would make sense at FlyScan is to install our device under a drone, you enter the GPS coordinates of the pipeline, tell it to go for three hours, and fly back, or go for four hours and land, and tomorrow do the rest of the segment.

It would make sense, but today regulations in Canada and the US will not authorize us to fly long distance at low altitude at high speed. Because our sensors are in the hundreds of kilograms, flying something at 100 meters altitude at over 100 km per hour, just think about the amount of kinetic energy in that flying object. No regulator will authorize a flight with no humans on board. So, I think the technology is not there yet to have the collision avoidance, and the regulation especially, is not there yet, even if there was collision avoidance software. The regulations would take years to authorize what makes sense business wise.

It’s very much an evolving thing, so that’s why we’re starting with helicopters, and then we move to fixed wing aircraft, and one day we’ll move to drones. But, it’s one step at a time. What matters is the sensor picking up leaks and whether it’s on a helicopter or a drone, this is secondary. Customers will care about the price, but they will not care about the delivery method.

Q:   What advice would you have for future entrepreneurs? You spoke to some of this already, but if you had the same opportunities, would you do it again?

Well, if I knew, I would do it again – yes! But, right from the start I would start with a remote screening solution to save money for the airport. That would have saved ten years and $30 million of venture capital. My advice would be; don’t fall in love with your technology. Of course, you must be excited about your technology; how good it is, how you will beat everybody else with it, but don’t fall in love with it. Fall in love with your customers and fall in love with your business model, and then the rest will come naturally. That’s the first advice. My second advice is; take your time to hire, and when you hire somebody, you must be bullet proof certain that this is a great person, and the minute you have any doubt; fire them! So, ask yourself, would I trust this guy with my life? And, if the answer is no, don’t hire them.

As a concluding point of the interview, I could not help but reflect that I had heard this time and again from entrepreneurs who’ve done startups. For a startup, having the right team is extremely important, even more so than financing, since individual team members play a crucial role in turning vision into reality. Make sure you have a group of competent and complementary team players.