Flying high: Drone tech company gets a lift
Secured grants from the Center for Innovative Technology ($79,500), Rebuild VA ($8,817), and Gauntlet 2020 Business Plan Award ($5,000), EIDL advance and loan ($110,000), and PPP ($6,000)
Have you ever wished something could work better than it does? Sometimes that’s all it takes to inspire someone with an entrepreneurial inclination to start a small business. And when inspiration strikes, the SBDC is there to assist.
Take Mickey Cowden, for example. In 2017, he was part of a Virginia Tech team that went to Abu Dhabi as a finalist in an international robotics competition. “A lot of the problems we had, doing field testing and stuff like that, I felt could be automated,” he said. “I was wishing we had a docking station so we could just land the drone automatically to handle logistics like power and data management instead of having to do everything manually.”
Fast forward to 2021. Mickey recently pivoted the focus of his small tech company, Cowden Technologies, from general software engineering to product development. The product? A smart docking station for mid-sized drones. Capabilities will include automatically recharging the drone’s battery, seamlessly transferring data to base or cloud storage, reloading payload (for spraying crops, for example), and providing a physical connection secure enough to hold tight even on a moving vehicle. But this pivot has come with a whole new set of challenges.
Enter Cheryl Tucker with the Roanoke SBDC. Based on a recommendation from a colleague at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Mickey contacted Cheryl, who turned out to be an invaluable resource.
While the shift to product development has been a dream come true for Mickey, it also meant a shift to a whole new set of issues, many outside his area of expertise. “There’s a lot of different aspects to doing product development, and coming from the consulting world, I thought I had a reasonable handle on that,” Mickey says. “But in a lot of ways, it’s an entirely different beast.”
Cheryl provided Mickey guidance in everything from financial and business advice to making essential connections in the business world and successfully applying for loans, grants, and other funding sources.
As Mickey describes it, “Cheryl has been a wonderful business resource and actually turned out to be a very supportive friend, so I think I definitely lucked out when I got to work with Cheryl.”