Rising StarOEN Member Spotlight – Jonathan Evans, Rising Tide Innovations

Rising Tide Innovations (RTI) develops software that connects end-users with drone service providers. It’s like Expedia for drones. Take a look at their company video and read our interview with RTI Co-Founder Jonathan Evans below.

Q: What does your business do?
A: Our goal is to connect the Internet to the physical world in near real-time. RTI is developing an online software platform that will allow non-technical end users to access increasingly affordable geospatial data through an emerging network of small aerial sensors, or drones. Our platform educates clients about the aerial sensing technology available to them, and offers a set of intuitive authoring tools that allows them to request the services that fit their specific needs. We then source the necessary aircraft operators and data processors to fulfill their request from our network of licensed and vetted service providers. At full scale, this market-making process will become fully automated by Application Programming Interface (API), allowing developers and organizations to expand the capabilities of the platform and the services available to end users.

We see applications in almost any industry. A few examples include: precision agriculture and forestry, insurance assessments, real estate sales and development, energy sector infrastructure inspections, and land management surveys.

Q: What problem does it solve?
A: There is an enormous emerging market of end users of aerial sensing technology that is currently unserved in today’s market. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology opens the aerial data market to a whole new class of users that is completely agnostic to the platform flown, the sensors used, the operator who flies it, or the app that runs the algorithm that gives the data collected some actionable meaning. The suppliers of UAS services are currently segmented into three silos: hardware manufacturers, operators, and data processing software. Each of these stakeholders offers an element of a client-facing solution in their own silo, but no one is currently offering a software service designed for a non-technical end user to author an intelligent geospatial query. RTI provides those authoring tools along with the education needed to use them intelligently, while offering service providers well-developed, paying customers.

Q: How did you come up with this business idea?
A: I’ve been a professional pilot for over 15 years and am also an unashamed geek. The first time I used an autopilot in a helicopter, I realized it was better at flying it than I was… a hard thing for any pilot to admit! This experience turned my head towards drones. I poured myself into the subject, and started to see the technology as something profound and quite beautiful; a new iteration of the Internet that extends the information network into the physical world in real time. I’ve always been especially enamored with the fact that this concept resides at the intersection of my passion for aviation and my love of disruptive, Moore’s Law-driven technologies. When WIRED and Techcrunch started posting articles about the emerging commercial drone industry, I realized I was well-poised as a geeky pilot and entrepreneur to connect the dots for a successful business in this new market. I formed a team of industry experts as co-founders, and we got to work!

Q: What are your biggest challenges?
A: People tend to think of drones only in a military context. And let’s face it… the image of a Predator firing missiles from an anonymous distance in a foreign land is not exactly a good brand ambassador! Once we’re talking to someone about the technology, and showing them how we’re currently working with fire departments to help protect the community, or how drones can help local farmers increase their crop yields, or how conservation efforts can be augmented, they almost always see it in a new light, and often come up with new, creative, and benevolent uses for the technology of their own. The challenge is in helping these ideas and images to become people’s first impression rather than the military version.

Q: What are your goals for the company?
A: Our goal is to construct turnkey solutions that connect aerial sensing service providers with customers. We’ve developed software that we hope will serve as the primary conduit through which people connect with UAS generated data all over the world. We are very early to the market, and we see a growing opportunity to bring our software development and aviation experience to markets looking for a more cost efficient way to manage their resources, but lacking the technical skills to take advantage of such innovative technologies.

Q: Do you have any news to share about your company’s evolution, new products or partnerships?
A: We’re currently working with a select group of operators that serve unique sets of end users in various parts of the world. This group is alpha testing our minimally viable product (MVP) within each of their respective vertical markets. The US is quite a ways behind many other countries in terms of UAS regulation, so it is important for us to include some international commercial applications in our testing process. The FAA expects to integrate UAS into the national airspace by 2015. Thankfully, I am a certified FAA flight instructor and our advisory board includes King Povenmire, a FAA Designated Flight Examiner, so we are well equipped to navigate the FAA regulations as they are being developed.

Q: Are you looking for funding?
A: Yes, we’re currently raising a seed round from accredited investors. Most importantly, we’re looking for some excellent mentorship to help shape our vision and wisely employ our resources. Investment information can be viewed by accredited investors on angel.co.

Q: Have you been an entrepreneur before?
A: Yes. When I got out of the Army in 2006, I started a “green” real estate development company. We built two beautiful houses before the bubble popped, and I learned more in ultimately failing at that endeavor than I have from any of my successes in life. I also co-founded a cloud-based real estate brokerage called Vizz with one of my best friends two years ago. As we’d agreed from the outset, I served as the CTO and lead product designer to get the company up and running, and have since moved over to an advisory position on the board. I’m proud to say that Vizz is up and running, posting real revenues, and expanding! But my passion remains with aviation, and RTI is the perfect project for a professional pilot, tech entrepreneur, and unabashed nerd.

Q: What brought you to OEN?
A: We’re dedicated to staying in Portland and wanted to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. I don’t think folks realize how vibrant a tech corridor this area is becoming for aerial sensing and data services, but it’s huge here, and we think Portland could become the nation’s true hub for this emerging market. Plus, we love the city and see the startup community here as perfectly aligned with our own company culture.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
A: I spent nine years in the Army where the thing I loved the most (other than flying really cool stuff!) was the camaraderie shared with the folks I served with. Looking back, I think I expected the business world to be more closed off and cold, driven entirely by cut-throat competition. I was so wrong! I’ve found more esprit de corps in the startup community than I have anywhere. People are intellectually curious, enthusiastically collaborative, and sincerely supportive at almost every junction, even when there’s some obvious competitive overlap. It’s been a really pleasant surprise!

Q: What has been the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received?
A: Don’t be afraid to think big.

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