Natilus, a manufacturer of large aircraft drones, has closed a second round of seed funding with investment from Starburst Ventures, Seraph Group, Gelt VC, Outpost Capital and Draper Associates.
The funds – the amount was not disclosed – will go toward what the company calls its “aggressive scaling strategy”, with the first Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight for its 30-foot prototype scheduled for late 2017, and a commercial market launch in 2020.
Just as the long-haul freight sector has made huge strides in efficiency gains and cost reduction due to technology innovation, Natilus says the $15.5 trillion global freight market is poised for disruption as it strives to offer customers more cost-effective delivery solutions beyond the decades-old vessels and aircraft which serve as its primary sources of transport.
Natilus has identified what it calls “the sweet spot” between sea and air freight in the international freight market, offering a large cargo-capacity UAV that challenges current incumbents on price and speed of commercial-scale freight delivery.
François Chopard, founder and CEO of Starburst Ventures, says: “Two years ago, Natilus gave its pitch for the first time at our Los Angeles selection committee, and that exposure led to its initial seed round.
“Today 47 per cent of Starburst’s portfolio companies have now closed Series A rounds at an average of $10 million.
“We were pleased to provide the technical and business due diligence, and now investment, to take Natilus to the next level. That’s the perfect demonstration of our investment strategy in action.”
Tuff Yen, founder and president of Seraph Group, says: “Today’s freight sector is limited to just two choices when it comes to meeting customer demand – an expensive 14-hour route by air or a slow-going 21-day ocean trip. Why haven’t there been more options?
“Natilus’ value proposition, the ability to provide cost-effective cargo container-sized air options, creates a far-reaching impact on cost of goods, logistics, finance and commerce.”
Astral Aviation, a leading air freight provider in Africa, says it is “excited for Natilus’ progress in developing large cargo drones for the industry”.
Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO of Astral Aviation, says: “Astral is looking to incorporate aerial vehicles such as Natilus into their African network to complement their current schedule and improve cargo connectivity in Africa.”
Outpost Capital says it is “a believer in globalization”.
Ryan Wang, founding partner of Outpost Capital, says: “Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a stable increase in demand for cross-border air delivery.
“In China, the logistic industry has been developing rapidly domestically, and will be getting ready for global expansion – Natilus is positioned to do just that.”
Natilus’ large-scale drones will be comprised of carbon fiber composites while using existing turbofan and turboprop engines, scaling to a long-term vision of 950,000-pound airplanes carrying 120 tons over trans-Pacific routes.
Its next vehicle, a 12,000-pound drone capable of carrying two tons over 1,000 nautical miles, will feature retractable landing gear and will be capable of taking off and landing at local regional airports.
Jake Chapman, partner at Gelt VC, says: “The foundation of our thesis is to align and support the outliers that are pushing the boundaries in frontier tech, and we see Natilus as a first mover that is poised to impact global freight in a positive and meaningful way.
“With a high caliber team out of Boeing, Airbus and the drone sector, Natilus’ ability to dramatically reduce the cost and time of transporting cargo bodes well for the sector.”
Tim Draper, founding partner of Draper Associates, says: “Natilus is well positioned to be the leader in fast, inexpensive delivery of goods.
“It turns out that a self-flying vehicle can be more reliable and less expensive than one with a human in it.”
Aleksey Matyushev, CEO of Natilus, says: Natilus’ partnerships with this incredible group of investors is an important milestone in our continued growth.
“The new round of financing will allow us to scale the team to finish design of our 12,000-pound e-commerce drone, while at the same time growing our flight-testing operation for our 2,200-pound, 30-foot prototype.”