Drone startup lands $4M in venture round

Skyward aims to be a ‘digital airspace manager.’

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Portland-based drone startup, Skyward, is aiming to be a “digital airspace manager.”

And it announced Tuesday it secured $4.1 million in a venture round. 

OregonLive.com reports that the money will be used to double the number of people working for the company and for research and development.

Founders Co-Op, Norwest Venture Partners, Techstars Ventures and Verizon Ventures participated in Tuesday’s investment. They join Draper Associates and Voyager Capital, which led Skyward’s first, $1.5 million venture round last year. Oregon has a robust network of young companies chasing opportunities in the “aerial robotics” market, and the state committed $1.6 million last month to help establish a drone test range in Pendleton.

Unlike most drone companies, though, Skyward doesn’t make anything that actually flies. Instead, it connects drone operators to information about approved routes and regulatory standards. Skyward’s technology would map out aerial pathways set aside for drones and ensure the robotic planes traveling that road have permission, and the appropriate safeguards, to fly there. The company believes that will make the drone market more practical for companies like Amazon, which says it hopes to someday dispatch drones to deliver its packages.

Portland Business Journal expands on the development:

“Drones today are like handsets with no network infrastructure,” [David] Famolari [of Verizon Ventures] said. “Just as Verizon provides the critical infrastructure necessary to power mobile networking at scale, Skyward will provide the critical infrastructure needed to power the safe, compliant operation of commercial drones.”

Skyward’s product is in beta testing with several hundred users, said chief operating officer Mariah Scott. The company is also partnering with NASA and drone makers on the Urban Skywaysproject, which aims to demonstrate how commercial drones can operate in an urban environment. The first cities for this project are Vancouver, British Columbia, London, Las Vegas and Portland. The first demonstrations will likely occur in Vancouver or London, since Canada and the U.K. don’t have the same regulatory hurdles of U.S. cities, Scott said.

Many Skyward employees are pilots.