EagleHawk uses drones to conduct inspections and retrieve data for analysis. <span class='image-credits'>Anthony Ramirez</span>

In Focus: EagleHawk One entrepreneurs use drones to help solve real-world problems

The opening scene is unforgettable. English actor Daniel Craig as James Bond is using a motorcycle to chase a terrorist across the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. As his hair and tie are blowing in the wind, you can almost taste the motorcycle’s exhaust on your tongue. You can almost feel each bump of the motorbike as he pursues the bad guy.

The Hollywood movie Skyfall indeed had a dramatic start, not only because its lead actor was Bond, James Bond, but also because, thanks to the advancement of drone technology—the Flying-Cam in this instance—we were able to practically ride shotgun in this movie and in others like The Expendables 3 and Jurassic World.

The eagle and the hawk

Patrick Walsh and Willard Schulmeister haven’t starred in Hollywood blockbusters. They haven’t chased terrorists across rooftops. And they aren’t English.

But when it comes to drone technology, they steal the show. They are certified UAS drone pilots with the Federal Aviation Administration, and they are the principals of EagleHawk One LLC in Buffalo. They are taking drone technology to new heights (pun intended) here in Western New York, in Florida, and in California to help solve real-world issues for government, businesses, schools, and in the nonprofit arena.

They chose the name for their startup venture, which began in October 2016, because they liked the connotations of the winged creatures. The eagle is the chief over all birds, signaling power, flying the highest of any bird. The hawk is among the most intelligent bird, and is known for its four types of color perception and large number of photoreceptors in the retina. Or more simply put, the hawk has outstanding vision.

Hence, EagleHawk One LLC is a perfect name for a burgeoning company that employs aerial drone technology to gather geographic data, geospatial analysis, infrastructure inspection data, thermography, and digital aerial media to perform such important tasks as mapping, solar and roof inspections, and aerial data collection. It’s a much safer and more efficient way for businesses to inspect their roofs, map land, and even enhance real estate listings.

A business takes flight

Walsh describes himself as a “kid who liked to tinker.” He says his grandfather was an inspiration because he had his own law practice, but was also an entrepreneur. “When I grew up, I couldn’t see myself working for a big company my whole life,” he said. So the boy grew up, married, had children, and built a lovely home in Florida. Along the way, he also graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Rollins College. Walsh spent most of his career with Lockheed Martin, working with advanced thermal imaging systems for fighter aircraft and helicopters.

Schulmeister graduated from the University at Buffalo with a master’s degree in geographic data science and earned degrees in economic crime investigation, geography and social science. He has a background in private security and investigations, as well as property insurance and inspections services industries.

A native of Buffalo, Walsh and his wife longed to be close to family, so they sold their home and moved back to the Queen City in the summer of 2016. The sale of their Florida home, coupled with financial support from Walsh’s, parents provided some of the seed money to buy equipment and get the ball rolling.

At around the same time, Schulmeister was looking to start his own drone business and needed help. He connected with a friend and former employer who, along with two other partners, provided the seed capital to get started.

By chance, Walsh and Schulmeister met early in the fall of 2016 through a mutual contact, and found that they shared a passion for drone technology. Their complementing skill sets were a great fit, and they decided to join forces and form EagleHawk One LLC.

Diligence and long hours

Today, just 18 months after they launched their company, Walsh and Schulmeister have two full-time employees—industry experts—and one intern. They understand better today than when they started, the pitfalls of being your own boss.

“Navigating the regulatory environment of the national airspace takes a lot of diligence,” said Schulmeister. “The frame work is new in the regulatory scene so it takes a lot of patience.”

Walsh noted that when you go to work for yourself, expect to “put in a lot of hours.” For him, though, it is exciting. “It’s going to be a sacrifice,” he cautioned, “but it’s worth it. You won’t see your kids or spouse as much as you want when you’re first starting out.” For him, it gets more exciting as you build the business.

The guys quipped that they spend more time together than they do with their families, but it works right now because they are building their business, and they are both even-keeled and passionate about what they do.

The vision

They have plans to grow long into the future. The fastest growing part of their business is inspecting flat roofs on commercial buildings. By using thermal cameras on drones, they can see signs of roof damage that is not evident to the naked eye.

One of their first big jobs was to inspect all the roofs for the University at Buffalo, and they are now inspecting roofs all over the country. “We are finding 80 percent of the roofs we inspect show signs of damage, and this includes new roofs. Most don’t even know they have roof issues,” said Walsh. They see their service as a huge opportunity to help clients reduce risk and maintenance costs. Large roofs are often a big-ticket maintenance item, and replacing them can cost millions of dollars.

“We are working with national clients,” said Schulmeister. “We have a growth strategy and we’re looking to scale up.” They’ve done extraordinarily well in the roof scanning market, and soon, they hope to build a subscription-based inspection and data management platform for clients. Currently, they offer the traditional outcomes, like paper or PDF reports, but as more clients buy into recurring inspections, they have plans to improve how the data is delivered and managed.  

Because their business is doing so well and they hope to keep climbing up, Walsh and Schulmeister also plan to seek angel funding and hire more employees. “The only limitation is our time,” said Walsh. “Right now, our focus is on grabbing and growing market share.”

“We will continue to focus on the service aspect,” Schulmeister added. “But we plan to automate our processes and improve how our customers interact with data. The value is in the data and extracting meaningful information from it.”

Read more articles by Cynthia Machamer.

Cynthia Machamer earned a B.A. in writing from Houghton College and has more than 15 years of experience writing in the nonprofit sector. She moved to Buffalo in 2005, and her happiest moments are spent with her two grown children and her niece.
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