Drone startup Skygauge closes $3.3 million seed as demand increases amid pandemic

Skygauge Robotics has closed a $3.3 million CAD seed round and the Toronto and Hamilton-based drone startup is immediately scaling up its hiring in response to increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seed round closed in October and was led by BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund, with participation from RiSC Capital and follow-on from existing investors SOSV (through the HAX accelerator) and Hello Ventures.

“We had to invent a new way for drones to fly.”
– Nikita Iliushkin, Skygauge

The seed capital brings Skygauge’s total funding to $3.8 million CAD. The startup raised $500,000 CAD initially in pre-seed, with $250,000 USD of the funding originating from HAX’s Seed Program, while the remainder was contributed by friends and family investors.

Skygauge was co-founded in 2016 by CEO Nikita Iliushkin, chief designer and inventor Linar Ismagilov, and CTO Maksym Korol.

The startup’s board will now include Guillaume Mercier, partner with the Industrial Innovation Venture Fund, as well as Dave Kroetsch, founder and former CEO at drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs, and John Bowles, CEO at inspection technology company Inversa Systems.

Skygauge has developed drones for industrial applications, designed to reduce the time involved during inspections, while improving operator safety by keeping them from working at excessive heights. The startup’s drone design enables it to make direct contact with pipes, pressure vessels, and storage containers at varying angles to detect cracks beneath the surface with sensors during inspections that are typically performed by workers on ropes and scaffolding. The startup claims its drones can reduce time on site by 80 percent.

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“Our vision is to really use this as a platform to create a workforce in the sky,” said Iliushkin. “We formed in 2016 when we noticed a lack of design innovation in the drone industry. The industry is mostly composed of drones taking pictures and videos for data collection. We realized this stemmed from limitations with current designs. They were not stable enough to do more physical work and so we had to invent a new way for drones to fly.”

According to Iliushkin, the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in demand for remote work opportunities has led to a rise in interest in the startup’s product internationally.

“We’ve had requests from several countries in Europe, Asia, Japan, Africa, and South America, and a lot of clients in the Houston area as well,” said Iliushkin. “As you can imagine large industrial sites that produce oil and gas and petrochemicals are now trying to minimize worker time on site, as well as reducing costs. Everything has kind of accelerated because of this pandemic and a lot of companies are onboarding a lot more technology.”

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Skygauge is currently in the process of adding eight members to its current team, composed solely of the three founders. The startup is looking to hire six engineers, a business developer, and an office manager. Iliushkin told BetaKit Skygauge is also in the final stages of securing a new facility with a full lab and office.

The drone designed by Skygauge features a patented thrust-vectoring design, which allows the drone to maneuver with “six degrees of freedom,” said Iliushkin. He added that once the startup solidifies its position in the inspection market, it plans on expanding its drone technology into physical jobs like painting, spraying, pressure washing, drilling, paint removal, high-rise window washing, welding, and general construction.

Image courtesy Skygauge

Scott McLean

Scott McLean

Former public affairs professional. Retired amateur comedian. Vegetarian. Journalist.

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