Nice article about a trend by Sally French

Published: June 23, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET

A vibrant startup scene

Despite the challenges, other (often smaller) drone companies benefit from the test site.

Most of those companies are based in Fargo, a city that entrepreneurs say bursts with an energy that’s akin to that of the startup scene in San Francisco. But this scene is dominated by drone-based industries.

“We’re becoming a robust startup community,” said North Dakota’s lieutenant governor, Drew Wrigley. “They are the geek squad over in Fargo. You’ve got technical companies and young, energetic entrepreneurs.”

Appareo Systems builds flight-data recorders and ADS-B, a type of aircraft tracking system. Since 2001, that startup has worked on a project in partnership with NASA and the University of North Dakota to build, design and manufacture the ADS-B equipping the airplanes.

Another company, Packet Digital, combines high-speed power electronics with advancements in solar to double drone flight times. The ultimate goal is to provide drones with unlimited flight.

“Once you extend flight time, you open up the possibility of many more types of applications and uses for drones,” said Terri Zimmerman, Packet Digital’s CEO. Those applications could include agriculture, allowing farmers to fly drones over farmland to monitor their crops.

And as more drones fill the airspace, there’s a company working on technology that gives pilots situational awareness of other drones in the area. Botlink allows operators to control a drone from a tablet and detect other drones flying nearby.

The company was founded by Shawn Muehler. He’s the guy behind DroneFocus, a meet-up group in Fargo that grew to 50 members, including Becklund, local startups and public officials. “We’re bringing the government, the private sector, the commercial side together to cut through the red tape,” Muehler said. “It’s the only meet-up where we get every industry player in one room.” Lt. Gov. Wrigley has been known to attend.

Indicative of the group’s attitude, the whole thing is organized through Meetup.com. That means anyone is welcome; you just click a button to join. When the group huddles, the gathering feels more like a block party than a rigid policy meeting with a strict agenda, according to attendees.

“We just have a different personality out here,” Muehler said. “It’s not about how we can beat our competitors. It’s how we can help each other out to propel this industry forward.”

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