Meet Mohammed Nasir, a drone inventor, who found a team of Free Agents and launched Drones For Humanity at QØ's Catapult Incubator in Chicago. This is the perfect definition of a teen social entrepreneur.
Drones For Humanity
Drones for Humanity is a social enterprise aimed at using a system of heavy-lifting and rapidly-deployable drones to deliver humanitarian aid, ultimately saving many lives that would otherwise be lost by the conventional disaster response system.
After QØ's Catapult Incubator, Drones has continued to thrive and Mohammed has begun his freshman year at MIT. Drones recently won a $15,000 grant from MIT Sandbox, has gained additional team members, and is developing its 5th prototype.
The Free Agents who helped build Drones For Humanity
Along with other teen social entrepreneurs (Free Agents Trevin Wisaksana, Shreya Chanda, Anwar Asante, and Gloria Yu), the Drones for Humanity team worked hard during the Incubator to go from an invention & prototype to a functioning social enterprise with market viability. In the final weekend at Catapult, the team focused on storytelling and creating a captivating pitch. Thanks to a successful pitch by Free Agent Anwar Asante, the Drones for Humanity team won the Overall Favorite Award, Social Impact Award, Most Innovative Award, a tie for Most Investable (FOMO) Award, and a $1,000 grant from our sponsor The Shah Family at Catapult’s 2016 Spring Chicago Demo Day (see video below).
Successes after QØ's Catapult Incubator
Since Demo Day, we have been in talks with the Indonesian Disaster Management Authority to marshal our first field deployment, which is scheduled for this coming summer. We have also developed our fourth prototype over this past summer based on feedback and regulation changes. This prototype was exhibited at the EAA Airventure Airshow in Wisconsin. When I went to college at MIT, I had a plethora of opportunities for venture development, and was awarded a grant of $15k for developing the fifth prototype for deployment in Indonesia.
Struck by the fact that the majority of casualties occur after a natural disaster rather than during the event, Mohammed sought to develop a heavy-lifting drone which could act quickly to survey a disaster area, find survivors, and provide aid.
Due to limitations in transporting aid, relief organizations are often forced to choose where to send resources. While traditional methods of aid are delivered via helicopter, they can cost up to $10 million, the equivalent of over 1,000 drones. HumanityOne is designed to carry over 100 times more pounds per power than a helicopter. Beyond that, typical aid requires extensive logistics & supply chains including maintenance, pilots, and drivers, whereas the drone can be automated and rerouted during flight.
The fifth prototype employs a gas-electric hybrid propulsion system, essentially quadrupling its flight range. Additionally, we are incorporating an intelligent AI control system, which actively optimizes flight plans, automatically coordinates aid delivery efforts, all while generating a 3D model-map of the disaster zone and autonomously searching for survivors.
Watch "Humanity 1" drone in action
On Starting MIT This Year as a Freshman…
It may seem daunting to balance college and a startup, but at the end of the day, it really depends on where you go. MIT is rather hospitable to startups, and offer numerous opportunities to take ventures forward. At the same time, I would recommend taking the time to delegate tasks effectively, as it will take a load off your back in the long run. Also, invest in automation; this may take numerous definitions, but I shouldn’t be doing anything that a machine can do just as well. Apart from the above, it’s all about scheduling and coordination.
Many young entrepreneurs are wondering whether college is the right option for them. Why do you think it makes sense for you at this time?
That decision rests heavily on the college itself; does it provide resources for young entrepreneurs? In my case, MIT does exactly this; an ecosystem of mentors, entrepreneurs, and sources of funding is set up to help ventures grow. Additionally, the brand of the college stands out to many potential investors, and having the college’s support helps the company bootstrap on a very low budget. My new team members are students here at MIT, and I’ve found them simply through networking events and connections–college is ideal for this.
What advice can you give about getting funding for your idea?
We recently found some funding through MIT Sandbox – The process involved an application and a pitch to a funding board. The board included high-profile investment partners from firms such as Sequoia and Greylock. The pitch was relatively similar [to what we had to prepare for Catapult’s Demo Day], though we had to present specific financial breakdowns of our grant funding. Apart from that, it had a greater focus on track record. The breakdown of the grant was determined by a simple analysis of costs over the next few months, plus upgrade costs to the drone.
Many of the questions to follow up was structured around the skillset needed to make this work, and the fact that we have four functioning prototypes already addressed that concern.
Drones for Humanity tried to go the crowdfunding route and didn’t have as much success there as you originally hoped. What would you have done differently and recommend to others?
Taking the crowdfunding route is only for a specific group of ventures: those which sell consumer goods. Our company being a B2B-type business did not have much to give potential funders in return, and as such, the campaign was not as successful as we thought.
What do you think was the biggest benefit you got out of QØ?
I believe the most important thing QØ provided me with is startup strategy and great Free Agent teammates. We now know the process of formulating an idea, building a business model around it, and launching it into a company. Additionally, the connections show up unexpectedly–I ran into Nick Bain, an alum of the first QØ cohort at Harvard, because I was wearing a QØ t-shirt on campus!
Mohammed Invented a Drone
Added Free Agent Teammates
Got into MIT
What have you invented?