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Founder Friday: Patrick Walsh & Will Schulmeister, EagleHawk


Companies are finding applications for drones in all types of settings and industries: agriculture, utilities, filmmaking, construction, the list goes on and on.

With backgrounds in engineering and geographic data science, Patrick Walsh and Will Schulmeister saw the opportunity to use drones in more of a commercial setting, particularly building inspections. Their startup, EagleHawk, is helping schools and other businesses identify structural issues like roof leaks long before the problem impacts those working in the building. By sensing these issues before they have an adverse effect, companies are finding that the money they save covers the cost of the inspection. Kind of a no-brainer, huh?

Learn more about the work EagleHawk is doing to help local businesses better maintain their facilities as well as Patrick and Will’s plans to expand EagleHawk into a SaaS-type model in today’s Founder Friday!

How did your startup, well, start up?

Patrick Walsh: I am an Aerospace / Mechanical Engineer and I spent most my career at Lockheed Martin working with advanced sensor technology for military aircraft. So I have a passion for aerospace and sensor technology, and in the summer of 2016, I saw an opportunity to take advantage of an emerging commercial drone industry to perform commercial building inspections safer, faster, and more affordably than ever before leveraging this technology.

Will Schulmeister: I had recently completed a Master’s degree in Geographic Data Science, an area that I am really passionate about, and around the same time I saw an opportunity to leverage drone technology to produce and author my own maps. Patrick and I were connected by a mutual contact, we both had similar aspirations, and we found our skillsets meshed nicely as the GIS data collected by the drone is a key component in producing useful insights from the sensor data. So we decided to join forces, we founded EagleHawk, and the rest is history.

What do you do? Your startup?

Patrick: We specialize in performing commercial property inspections, primarily for flat roofs, using drones and infrared sensor technology. An infrared camera has the ability to detect roof leaks not evident to the naked eye, and we can often find issues before anyone knows the roof is leaking. We see a huge opportunity to help facilities like schools and corporate campuses manage their roofs more effectively by providing the data and insights they need to be more proactive. A roof replacement is often the largest maintenance expense, costing millions of dollars for larger buildings – and surprisingly, they are managed reactively and ineffectively. Most people don’t think about the roof until water is coming through the ceiling, and by then it is a big, expensive problem. We can help prevent that.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

Will: Our first big job was to inspect all the roofs for the University at Buffalo across all three campuses. It was about 100 buildings and we did it in less than 2.5 days – and to our surprise, a majority of the buildings showed evidence of water intrusion and leaks. With the data, we were able to help UB be much more proactive in managing their roofs, and we even identified issues they didn’t know they had on a roof that was months from going out of warranty. Finding those problems under warranty alone paid for the cost of the inspection.

Patrick: More than 200 buildings later, and we are still surprised to find that more than 80% of roofs we inspect show signs of leaking – and many are unaware of the extent of the issues. Even with newer roofs, we will often find leaks resulting from an installation issue that otherwise may have taken years to identify, as it can take a long time for a leak to propagate enough to start entering the interior of the building. By then it is an expensive repair that reduces the expected life of the roof.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?

Patrick: With minimal investment from friends and family to purchase equipment, we were able to bootstrap and survive that monumental first year. Early on, we were fortunate to find a few key customers and get orders. Two years later, we have served over 50 clients with most providing repeat business. We recently secured a small seed investment round and we used some of it to hire our graduating engineering intern, Jacob, full-time, and we just hired a sales manager, Sean. We are really excited to be expanding our full-time team, as it should help us accelerate growth.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Patrick: Over the next year our goal is to start transitioning our business from a service-based model focused on single inspections to a model similar to that of a SaaS-type model, providing a roof management platform where the data collected through recurring drone flights provides the necessary insights to help our customers manage their roofs more proactively.

We are developing a data management platform and mobile application that will help improve how our customers interact with and utilize the data. We recently completed a prototype, with a planned beta version this fall, and are really excited about the progress made so far. We think this model and these tools will be very valuable to larger clients, especially those who manage very large or several roofs. Early feedback has been encouraging! Our goal over the next 3 years is to raise additional capital and start to scale nationally. We already service a few clients with a national presence, and we are building a good base of work in the Southeast.

Why Buffalo?

Patrick: Buffalo is home. My wife and I grew up in Buffalo and Will grew up in Buffalo. My wife and I spent almost 10 years in Orlando, and we were excited to be able to move our family back to Buffalo. Although, this past winter was little hard to handle at times, especially when it was still snowing in April! But coming back, I was excited to see the emerging startup scene in Buffalo – something that didn’t seem to exist when I left. We were fortunate to get accepted into LaunchNY, and 43North with its resources and competition has been great for the Buffalo entrepreneurship scene. Also, the recent success of other Buffalo-born startups has been very inspiring.

Will: We also think there is a lot of great talent in Buffalo. We have had several interns from UB and other schools, and we are excited about the passion and ingenuity we have seen. We look forward to continuing to grow our Buffalo team!

How do you do it? What drives you?

Patrick: It is kind of true what they say, that if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work and it fuels the fire. Although the startup process is very much a rollercoaster and it can be exhausting, the excitement in seeing your vision and dream start to take shape keeps you going.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Patrick: Well, we are not out the woods yet and we have a ways to go, but I would recommend that if you have a dream, don’t give up and find a way to work towards it, even if it is part-time and on the weekends at first. Also, I have learned that you cannot be afraid to share your ideas with friends, colleagues, business mentors, etc. The feedback won’t always be good or what you hope to hear, but the feedback I have received has forced me to explore more options and collect more data, and that process I feel is putting us on a path for a higher probability of success.

Tags: Buffalo, Founder Friday, startups

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