Home / Business / Drone startup Airware crashes, will shut down after burning $118M

Drone startup Airware crashes, will shut down after burning $118M

Drone operating system startup Airware today suddenly informed employees it will cease operations immediately despite having raised $118 million from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins. The startup ran out of money after trying to manufacture its own hardware that couldn’t compete with drone giants like China’s DJI. The company at one point had as many as 140 employees, all of which are now out of a job.

A source sent TechCrunch screenshots from the Airware alumni Slack channel detailing how the staff was told this morning that Airware would shut down.

Airware makes a cloud sofware system that helps enterprise customers like construction companies, mining operations, and insurance companies reviewing equipment for damages to use drones to collect and analyze aerial data. That allowed companies to avoid using expensive helicopters or dangerous rigs with humans on harnesses to make inspections and gauge work progress.

One ex-employee asked “How do I get my options sent to me on paper so I can burn them all in a fire?”

Founded in 2011 by Jonathan Downey, the son of two pilots, Airware first built an autopilot system for programming drones to follow certain routes to collect data. It could help businesses check rooftops for damage, see how much of a raw material was coming out of a mine, or build constantly-updated maps of construction sites. Later it tried to build its own drones before pivoting to consult clients on how to most efficiently apply unmanned aerial vehicles.

While flying high, Airware launched its own Commercial Drone Fund for investing in the market in 2015, and acquired 38-person drone analytics startup Redbird in 2016. In this pre-crypto, pre-AI boom, Airware scored a ton of hype from us and others as tried to prove drones could be more than war machines. But over time, the software that shipped with commercial drone hardware from other manufacturers was good enough to make Airware irrelevant, and a downward spiral of layoffs began over the past two years, culminating in today’s shutdown. Demonstating how sudden the shut down is, Airware opened a Tokyo headquarters alongside an investment and partnership from Mitsubishi just four days ago.

“Airware was ahead of the game trying to build their software. So far ahead that the drone hardware on the market wasn’t sophisticated enough to actually produce the granularity of data they needed to test out their software/train their algorithms” an ex-employee told TechCrunch (emphasis ours). “So they spent shitloads of money designing bespoke hardware, including two drones in-house, one multi-rotor called an AT-28, and one fixed-wing called Cygnet. Both projects were scuttled as hardware from DJI and Ebee caught up to needs, after sinking tons of engineering time and manufacturing into them.”

Following TechCrunch’s inquiry about the unnannounced news, Airware confirmed the shut down to us with this statement:

“History has taught us how hard it can be to call the timing of a market transition. We have seen this play out first hand in the commercial drone marketplace. We were the pioneers in this market and one of the first to see the power drones could have in the commercial sector. Unfortunately, the market took longer to mature than we expected. As we worked through the various required pivots to position ourselves for long term success, we ran out of financial runway. As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we notified our team, customers, and partners that we will wind down the business.

This is not the business outcome we had worked so hard for over the years and yet we are deeply proud of our company’s accomplishments and our leadership in driving the adoption of drone powered analytics to improve productivity, mitigate risks, and take workers out of harm’s way.

As we close the book of Airware; we want to thank the partners and customers who believed in us and helped us along the way. And, while it is difficult to say goodbye to our team, we want to thank them for all they have contributed to Airware and the industry. We look forward to seeing how they will take their learnings from Airware to fuel continued innovations in the world around us.”

[Update: Since we broke the news, Airware has put up a “thank you” note about the shutdown informing clients that “A representative from the Airware team will be in touch.”]

An Airware-hardware equipped drone

Employees will get one week’s severance, COBRA insurance until November, and payouts for unused paid time off. It appears the startup wasn’t able to raise necessary funding to save the company or secure an acquisition from one of its strategic partners like Catepillar.

Airware will serve as cautionary tale of startup overspending in hopes of finding product-market fit. Had it been more frugal, saved cash to extend its runway, and given corporate clients more time to figure out how to use drones, Airware might have stayed afloat. Sometimes, even having the most prestigious investors can’t save a startup from mismanagement.

Our ex-employee source concludes that “I think having $118M in the bank led Airware to charge ahead and sink tons of money into force-it-to-work methods rather than exercise a bit of patience and wait for the inevitable advance of hardware to catch up. They had a knack for hiring extremely talented and expensive people from places like Google, Autodesk, there was even SpaceX and NASA alumni there.

They spared no expense ever.”

Check Also

Ezra raises $4M to diagnose cancer with MRIs, not painful biopsies

1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. But sticking a needle through your rectum into your prostate to screen for cancer brings along a ton of bacteria and terrible side effects like pain, infection, urinary trouble, and even erectile dysfunction. It turns out you can detect cancer with Magnetic Resonance Imaging…it’s just prohibitively expensive to do one-off MRIs and have radiologists analyze the scans. But by buying MRI slots in bulk and using artificial intelligence to scan them, a new medtech startup called Ezra wants to replace blood tests and biopsies with MRIs as the new standard of care. Today, Ezra launches v1 of its MRI prostate cancer screening subscription service in New York City. For $999 per year, patients get one MRI, access to medical staff and educational guides, and on-going support if the test finds they have cancer. For now, human radiologists still analyze the scans. However, Ezra is working to get FDA approval next year for its AI analysis that’s was initially found to be 90 percent as accurate as medical experts, and could turn Ezra into a lucrative and scalable medtech company. Comparing Radiologist and AI detection of cancer in MRI scans “One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless, way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body” says Ezra co-founder and CEO Emi Gal. He hopes that eventually, Ezra could offer full-body MRIs that make screening for all types of cancer easier to stomach so more cases can be caught early and more patients can survive. To build out its team and market to potential patients at risk for prostate cancer, Ezra is also announcing it’s raised a $4 million seed round led by Accomplice, the health-focused VC that funded PillPack before it was acquired by Amazon for nearly $1 billion. The firm was attracted by Ezra’s 50 percent gross margin on subscriptions that could get even higher at lower subscription prices once its AI is approved. “We’re not losing money every sale” Gal tells me. And while $999 might sound steep, he says a prostate MRI will cost you $1500 if you book it yourself. With 30 million men in the US alone at risk of prostate cancer, there’s urgent need for Ezra to fulfill its mission of “making MRI-based cancer screening affordable to everyone.” Ezra’s Super Hero Origin Gal has one of those startup founder super hero origin stories that gives him the grit necessary to see the problem through. “I developed hundreds of moles as a child that put me at very high risk of melanoma. Every year I’ve had to check for abnormalities and do a couple of biopsies” he candidly revealed. “I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of cancer screening since a young age.” Ezra co-founder and CeO Emi Gal After studying computer science and applied math in his home country of Romania, he built an adtech company at age 20 and sold it at 30. While working with terminally ill cancer patient charity Hospices Of Hope, he seized on the need for better cancer screenings and began his research about different methods. “The more scientists I spoke to, the more convinced I became to build a new screening modality” he recalls. Typically, prostate cancer screenings involve a blood test for prostate-specific antigen, with an needle-through-the-rectum biopsy done if PSA levels are elevated. But PSA levels can be inaccurate, triggering painful and unnecessary biopsies. Gal discovered a recent study by a leading urologist that looked at 500 patients with some diagnosed the traditional way, and some with an MRI that when cancer is detected is then used to guide a biopsy. The latter method identified 18 percent more cases of cancer while reducing unnecessary biopsies and the associated side effects by 27 percent, the study found. MRIs could work. So Ezra conducted its own investigation to see if AI could perform as well as a radiologist. It had three experts mark up a data set from the National Institute Of Health and trained its AI on the data set through the work of Gal’s co-founder Diego Canto, a PhD in deep learning applied to MRI. They found the AI was 90 accurate at agreeing with the experts on a new data set. Now an FDA regulatory expert on the team is trying to get the AI approved to assist radiologists to lower Ezra’s labor costs. Magnetic Resonance Innovation Rather than wait around, Ezra has partnered with the leading MRI facility network RadNet. It buys MRI time slots in bulk for a cheaper rate, starting with a location in Lenox Hill, Manhattan. Next year it will expand to more RadNet locations beyond New York City. If the AI gets approval, there’ll still be human medical experts involved. The AI eliminates the grunt work of doing measurements and annotating MRI scans so the human can focus on just making the cancer/not cancer call. And if the diagnosis sadly is positive, “What we don’t want to do is just drop a report on people that says ‘you likely have cancer’. We want to help with the treatment process and recommend the best urologists” Gal tells me. A study found AI to agree with medical experts on prostate cancer detection 90 percent of the time The combination of hard technology and the booming direct-to-consumer industry drew the $4 million round that also includes Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and a number of startup founders and angel investors like SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung. They see Ezra as differentiated from expensive overall health screening services like the $25,000 Human Longevity Inc. “Ezra’s uniqueness stands as much in the company’s investigational AI technology as it does in its innovative consumer-centric cancer screening model” says John Crues, M.D. RadNet’s Medical Director. But the biggest threat to Ezra is insurance. If it can’t convince insurers that MRIs that are expensive up front but could be more accurate with fewer complications are more capital efficient long-term than the biopsy status quo, it may have a very tough time getting people to pay $1000 out of pocket. It will also have to find the right balance of margins and affordability that insurers will tolerate. “We want to focus on building a data set that proves [MRIs] are more accurate, less painful, and faster than that the standard of care” Gal concludes. If it can institute MRIs as the new standard for prostate screenings, Ezra will be on its way to offering a single painless test that could spot cancer early enough that it can be beaten. Cancer will kill 9.6 million people this year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Disclaimer: Trading in bitcoins or other digital currencies carries a high level of risk and can result in the total loss of the invested capital. theonlinetech.org does not provide investment advice, but only reflects its own opinion. Please ensure that if you trade or invest in bitcoins or other digital currencies (for example, investing in cloud mining services) you fully understand the risks involved! Please also note that some external links are affiliate links.