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Drone tech companies partner with VCs to launch funds for sector

DJI and Accel Partners have launched the $10m SkyFund to invest in drone start-ups and more broadly across robotics and intelligent machines. Airware's Commercial Drone Fund follows suit.

A few weeks after DJI, the world’s biggest drone company, secured $75 million in financing from global venture capital firm Accel Partners, the two parties have joined forces to launch SkyFund, a $10 million joint initiative to invest in drone start-ups and more broadly across the booming field of robotics and intelligent machines.

“Through our partnership, we aim to ignite the platform for thousands of developers and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the latest in aerial robotics, and build for multiple industrial use cases and vertical app categories,” according to SkyFund’s website.

The fund is aiming to invest $250,000 or more in early-stage entrepreneurs through a standard convertible note, or as part of a seed or Series A equity round, Agri Investor learned. And there is potential for follow-on funding from DJI or Accel as companies grow.

Investee companies will have the opportunity to use DJI resources to help develop their products and technologies; gain support from DJI’s channel and sales teams as well as discuss co-development and co-branding opportunities.

SkyFund portfolio companies will also have access to Accel’s events and meetups, recruiting and talent networks, as well as the broader network of advisors, founders and entrepreneurs across the Accel family.

SkyFund has hired advisors to help with the fund’s management including hardware founders from Silicon Valley, staff from the Federal Aviation Association and people who are knowledgeable about developing platforms, Agri Investor learned.

Accel and DJI are not alone in launching an initiative like this. Airware, the most heavily venture-capital-backed drone start-up in Silicon Valley, launched Commercial Drone Fund, a similar investment fund aimed at making $250,000 to $1 million investments in early-stage commercial drone companies. And it has made two investments already, including Redbird, a cloud data analysis company based in Paris, and the London-based Sky-Futures, a company specialising in oil and gas data capture and analysis by commercial drone, according to Airware’s press release.

Airware’s chief executive, Jonathan Downey, is the fund’s general partner. Downey led Airware to raise over $40 million in five funding rounds; the Commercial Drone Fund will be a separate entity.

“While the commercial drone industry is evolving rapidly, we still see gaps in the ecosystem. The Commercial Drone Fund will identify and boost the rising stars that are advancing important drone-related initiatives, such as powerful new sensors, intelligent analytics, or innovative field services,” Downey said in a statement. “I know how hard it is to raise early money in a new space and I want to help other entrepreneurs get further faster.”

According to Airware, the fund expects to invest in dozens of start-ups over the next two years.

Investment into drone technology companies has taken off in 2015 already representing $172 million in equity financing according to CB Insights. That is more than the $107 million total raised in the sector in 2014.