Unmanned drones have become one of the hottest trends of the year with big box retailers Amazon and Wal-Mart reportedly moving to implement the machines into their delivery systems. Over at FreeSkies, a new startup company out of the University of Illinois, new software is being developed to bring a different type of drone to consumers. The company is working on developing autonomous software for drones, making aerial data collection simple and accessible to everyone.
How It All Got Started
It all started when Jay Mulakala, now CFO and co-founder of the company, began experimenting with photography. Mulakala claims, "I’ve always been fascinated by high-angle aerial photographs, many of them being captured with helicopters or cranes." He graduated from the University of Illinois in 2015 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and a certificate in Technology Commercialization. During his time at the university, his co-founder, Andy Putch and him took a course at UIUC on quadcopters, or four rotor helicopters. They fooled around with coding for the quadcopter until they were able to make it autonomous. With his background in photography, Mulakala saw the application of the drone for the average photographer to operate, without the complexity of flying a drone. Thus, FreeSkies was born.
From there, Mulakala and Putch went to several startup competitions. They began to develop a proof of concept after winning one of the competitions and gaining some initial funding. After that, the two joined the Bretl Research Group to conduct further research into the technology of quadcopters.
Having only just graduated college, Mulakala still has over eight years of experience in the startup and small business world. "I ran a small ecommerce website, drop-shipping products from China and reselling them in the US when I was 11. When I was 15, I went on to start a small design firm, running web campaigns, designing marketing materials, and creating logos. From there, I started a small bike storage company with a friend, storing and maintaining bikes over winter break and summer vacation," he explains. According to the co-founder, regular clubs and organizations in college simply did not interest him.
Entrepreneurship at University of Illinois
The entrepreneurship community at the University of Illinois is rapidly growing according to Mulakala. Research Haven in the city is quickly becoming a huge center for local startups. He also cites The Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) as being extremely helpful to the company by connecting his team and him with the right resources and the right people. The university is known more for idea generation rather than development at the moment.
Planning For The Future
FreeSkies is currently raising a new seed round of venture capital funding in order to continue development on the enterprise version of its product CoPilot. Mulakala claims that the company received seed funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners but will need additional money to continue work at its current space.