Before bringing his startup to the sky, Matt Sloane knew how to make headlines.
Sloane worked at CNN for 14 years, a majority of which was spent as a medical producer. In April 2014, during the latter part of his tenure at the company, he was asked to speak at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center about how journalists cover breaking news stories.
He happened to bring one of the newest additions to the camera fleet: a drone.
“I had four fire chiefs come up to me after that and ask how they could get one for their department,” Sloane told Hypepotamus. “I said I had no idea, but I was going to figure it out.”
Ultimately, Sloane rallied his Emory college friends — attorney Adam Weaver and serial entrepreneur Walt Wylupek — along with flight instructor Ben Kroll and created Skyfire Consulting, an Atlanta-based startup integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into public safety.
With FAA consulting and training, Skyfire has worked with 500 public safety clients around the country including the Atlanta Police Department, Houston Fire Department, and California Department of Forestry. Sloane said Skyfire’s work has been used for search and rescue, accident scene reconstruction, and serving high-risk warrants.
Sloane believes Skyfire is part of creating momentum in the “the drone as a first responder” model of public safety, as they can reach an area in a matter of minutes to better access the situation.
Deployed after a 911 call and not for any sort of surveillance mission, a handful of agencies across the country — including the City of Brookhaven Police Department — have started testing drones as a way to rapidly respond to community incidents.
STARTUP ENERGY IN AEROSPACE
Skyfire was a bootstrapped startup for the first six years before taking on angel investment. While drone technology is still relatively new, Skyfire has been strategically building in Georgia, a state that has been forward-thinking regarding the importance of drones to a variety of industries for at least the last decade.
After its 2020 acquisition of Maine-based Viking UAS, Skyfire is now in the drone manufacturing space to build “purpose-built aircraft for public safety” that are more rugged and have longer flight times.
Skyfire’s move into manufacturing builds on the momentum already seen in the state. A 2020 PwC report puts Georgia as the best state in the country for aerospace manufacturing, citing low business cost, university tech talent, and Georgia Tech R&D as big draws.
But Skyfire’s drone work also highlights the strength of the state’s overall aerospace industry, which has grown to be the state’s number one export and one of six strategic industries supported by the Georgia Center of Innovation.
Amy Hudnall, the Georgia Center of Innovation Aerospace’s Director, told Hypepotamus that while corporate giants like Delta Airlines, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, and Gulfstream Aerospace put Georgia’s aerospace industry on the map, a slew of startups have changed the way we look at “designing, building, operating, and maintaining” aircraft locally.
In fact, the Center has reported that the state now houses 800 aerospace companies, 80 NASA suppliers, and employs well over 100,000 Georgians. Some other notable teams in the space include aircraft manufacturer Hermeus and drone data company Airbus Aerial.
Photos provided by Skyfire Consulting