Made In Britain: Sky Futures

What does your company do? What products or services does it provide?
Sky-Futures provide inspections of hard to access infrastructure in the Oil and Gas industries using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). We provide highly experienced UAV operators and cutting edge UAVs to capture HD and thermal images of items that are otherwise inspected by helicopter or shut down and climbed. Once we have collected the imagery our engineers provide a technical report on the condition of the asset.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea was conceived during operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan where both Chris Blackford, co-founder and Operations Director, and I were relying on data from large UAVs to navigate routes on the front line and trying to work out how wide roads and paths were for our vehicles. We realised that the data stream from the UAVs was very rich with information and we set out to find out how we could successfully utilise it in a positive way.

When did you start up, and what support were you given?
Aside from our own contacts, we were lucky enough to work with Government’s GrowthAccelerator scheme, a unique service led by some of the country’s most successful growth specialists. The scheme provided us with a mentor, Stuart Nicol, who has a solid background in venture capital as well as also being ex-military. By working with Stuart we benefited from external validation on our business model, growth projections and advice on financing the business.

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What has been your biggest achievement so far?
For us it’s being able to employ highly experienced ex-military personnel and seeing them thrive in their new careers. The military provides soldiers with a huge amount of transferable skills and we’re able to recognise and utilise those skills. Our operators regularly receive excellent feedback from clients and are the face of the company.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
As a founder you have to initially do everything from finance to marketing, so the challenge is finding enough hours in the day to get everything done!

How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?
We’ve created a ‘new’ product by harnessing the UAV technology and our experience from the military. Our focus, therefore, is on delivering excellence and continuous innovation to keep us ahead of the competition.

What has been the best decision you have made to-date?
To remain flexible. In fact, this enabled us to change our business model several times before we arrived at the right formula.

Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?
In 12 months we expect the company to be triple the size it is today, in terms of both employees and revenue. Many of our employees are ex-military, as they already have the right skills and experience in this field, and we’re pleased to be able to offer roles which put the skills, that cost the military thousands of pounds in training, to good use.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
If you have a great idea, build a strong team to help you deliver it.

What do you find most satisfying about running a business?
The freedom to drive ideas forward and the ability to create a great company culture.

Why do you think British brands/products like yours appeal so much to overseas consumers? What makes them unique?
In the UK we are inundated with world class businesses. Therefore to stand out, a UK business has to have excellent products, service delivery and customer service. This is recognised abroad and provides a great competitive advantage for companies that export. UK Plc is a strong brand.