The potential use cases for drones are seemingly limitless, and Ontario-based Volatus Aerospace has rapidly emerged as a leader in bringing specialists from an array of industry verticals together under one banner.
When former pilot, executive, and mergers and acquisitions specialist Glen Lynch looked into the industry five years ago he quickly identified its potential, but feared it was being limited by silos and resource scarcity among key players.
“What we discovered was this rapidly growing industry coming out of a nascent phase with rapid adoption and tremendous demand, but those demands were largely being served by small businesses, with small-business resources,” he says. “The opportunity was to position ourselves with a well-capitalized company, featuring strong senior leadership with an aerospace and aviation background, that could work towards achieving a national – and subsequently global – presence in that sector.”
The global unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market was estimated to be worth US$27.4-billion in 2021, and is expected to reach US$58.4-billion by 2026, at an annual growth rate of 16.4 per cent, according to a report by U.S research firm MarketsandMarkets.
Upon identifying the challenges and opportunities in the industry, Mr. Lynch and his team incorporated Volatus in 2019, and after two years of rapid expansion, went public on the TSX Venture Exchange on Jan. 4, 2022. Today, Volatus has 13 companies in its portfolio, each with unique expertise in its own area of specialization.
“We make sure they’re a strategic fit, a cultural fit, and basically, we sit down with them and say, ‘how do we help you achieve what you’re capable of achieving?’ and then we start introducing them to one another,” says Mr. Lynch. “It creates an energy and momentum that, even for me, is awesome to watch.”
For example, Mr. Lynch says Toronto-based drone companies tend to be leaders in construction and environmental sciences, while those based in central Canada have expertise in agriculture.
“Those organizations get to know each other, and all of a sudden down in southwestern Ontario we’re now stronger in agriculture, and up in the Prairies we’re stronger in construction and mining, and those examples go on and on and on,” he says. “Through the companies we’ve acquired we’ve basically covered every service vertical in the drone industry, and can provide services in every province in Canada, every state in the Union, and have a growing presence in Latin America.”
That list of sectors in which drones are being utilized includes cargo, agriculture, infrastructure, mapping, inspection and surveying, oil and gas, emergency health services, disaster relief, police, military and more.
“As far as the use cases, you run out of ink before you run out of ideas, and most of these industries are adopting [drone technology] today,” he says.
Building this ever-expanding portfolio of industry leaders, says Mr. Lynch, requires a strong commitment to retaining staff and leadership at each individual company.
“A key thing I’m really proud of is that we’ve retained 100 per cent of the leadership of the companies that have been consolidated,” he says. “They’re still running it, and on average they grew their services and training services 106 per cent in the year after we acquired them.”
Mr. Lynch credits the company’s rapid growth – from startup to publicly traded industry leader – to decades of business and aviation experience, both within its own leadership ranks, and among its consolidated companies.
“I get the privilege, as CEO, of taking credit for an awful lot of work I didn’t do,” he jokes. “You could call it blitz scaling, but in a sustainable way.”
Volatus has also played a key role in assisting the people of Ukraine recently, both in its resistance to Russian military aggression, and in the ongoing humanitarian crisis that resulted from the conflict. The company supplies Ukraine with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drones and hopes to use its products to assist with the delivery of medical and humanitarian aid.
“When a soldier needs to see what’s over the hill or around the side of a building, they don’t have to stick their head up to get shot at to see if someone is there; they can throw a drone in the air and have eyes-on in literally seconds,” says Mr. Lynch, whose son is currently serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. “It gives them a strong situational awareness, and in many cases allows them to stay out of harm’s way.”
Mr. Lynch adds that ISR drones are also being deployed to monitor escape routes for fleeing refugees, and that he hopes to play a role in the long-term reconstruction of the country.
As for the company’s broader future ambitions, he says opportunities for drones to streamline and enhance existing industries, or underpin new ones, are seemingly endless. That is because drone technologically is only getting more advanced, more environmentally sustainable, and more autonomous, creating greater social acceptance and a more favourable regulatory environment.
“Right now most drones – not all, but most – are operated within the visual line of sight of the pilot or trained observer,” he says. “What’s coming is a regulatory and technological shift that will allow these aircrafts to fly beyond visual line of sight.”
In the immediate future, however, Mr. Lynch says the company is focused on expanding its geographical reach, as demonstrated by the recent opening of a new location in London, England, which will serve as a base for expansion into Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“Ultimately, as a company our goal is to continue to aggressively and organically grow our companies, while pursuing additional companies to roll up; some in North America, but a lot of them internationally,” he says.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Volatus Aerospace. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.