Home / Companies / Start-ups /  Investors flock to drone startups on new policies, applications

NEW DELHI : India’s drone industry is taking wing on the back of favourable policies and emerging ways of using such unmanned aircraft, attracting investments to the fledgling sector.

According to market researcher Venture Intelligence, the number of deals in the sector in the 12 months through June doubled from the year before, while the value of investments tripled. The industry raised $87 million across 10 deals in the past year, up from $24 million over five deals in the year before.

“The recently-amended drone rules and the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for drones have encouraged the domestic manufacturing of drones, components, and software for the global market, and opened the doors for more players to get involved in the growth of the ecosystem," said Varsha Tagare, managing director at Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of US chip firm Qualcomm Inc.

Qualcomm Ventures was among investors in drone manufacturing startup ideaForge’s $20 million Series-B funding round this April. While the venture arm of Qualcomm is investing in startups, the parent is building reference designs, platform support, and providing access to software development kits (SDKs) so that drones can be customized for different applications. SDKs are a collection of software tools that help create large applications.

Vishesh Rajaram, managing partner at Speciale Invest, agreed with Tagare’s assessment. The VC fund led a $5 million funding round in The ePlane Company, a Chennai-based startup aspiring to build flying taxis, back in January.

Yet, valuations of drone startups still pale in comparison to firms in the edtech or software-as-a-service (SaaS) sectors, though companies expect them to swell in the coming months. Chennai-based Garuda Aerospace said in June that expects its valuation to touch $250 million with a $30 million Series A round that is is expected to close by this month-end.

A key reason for the growth in the drone sector and increasing investor interest is that from being limited to defence applications till a few years ago, more sectors are now looking to use drones. Tagare noted that drones can be used in everything from safety and surveillance, to maintenance of oil and gas refineries and telecom.

Speciale Invest’s Rajaram said that long-range, large-capacity drones are expected to see the most traction initially, “especially those providing applications for industries and business". The first opportunity, according to him, will be for firms operating in the business-to-business (B2B) space.

Both Rajaram and Tagare agreed that investments in the industry will only increase as it matures. The rollout of 5G networks and the option to acquire 5G spectrum for private networks is expected to spur growth as well.

The government’s Drone Shakti mission, announced in this year’s Union Budget, has paved the way for companies to offer drones-as-a-service (DRaaS), which in turn, allows them to shore up revenues and attact more investors.


Abhijit Ahaskar

Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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