Few projects can get a venture capitalist as excited as things that fly. While sometimes the exact innovation of a software product or an online marketplace may raise questions, this is never the case for a flying piece of hardware. As part of a generation that still believed that the ultimate sign of the future would be flying cars, the current whirlwind developments in drone technology are incredibly exciting, and often feel as the ultimate proof that technology is delivering its utmost potential.
At Vitosha, we’re no newbies to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Two years ago, we made our first investment in a drone company, leading an investment round in Assen Aero, a company that is developing human transportation drones. Even now, with a portfolio of over 85 companies, this particular investment still stands out as the most moonshot-like we’ve done. Last month, we were finally able to add another drone development company to our portfolio: D Aerospace.
The stories behind drone development don’t only speak to the imagination of innovation, they’re also always about the recognizable and romantic persona of the inventor type. Such is also the story of Dzhulian Tahov, the man behind D Aerospace. As a kid, growing up in the household of recognized Bulgarian interior designer Dzhulian Tahov sr, young Dzhulian was surrounded by materials and equipment. He was also passionate about radio-controlled cars and planes, and as he grew up, it was clear he would be perceiving that passion professionally.
Photo courtesy: Forbes Bulgaria
Dreaming of working at NASA one day, he enrolled in a college in California, only to find life in LA so far from home in Bulgaria challenging. Instead of getting the degree from Stanford Engineering that he had set his sights on, Dzhulian instead completed his studies in Moscow, and returned to Bulgaria to pursue his dream: building the best industrial drone in the world.
Thus in 2022, D Aerospace was born. Working mostly alone in his father’s workshop in a villa on the outskirts of Sofia, Dzhulian built a first working prototype, called Salvatore. Able to take up to 15 kilograms of payload with a flight time of up to 40 minutes and a range of 20 kilometers, Salvatore successfully passed flight tests, and Dzhulian took it on a spin to potential clients and investors, including us at Vitosha.
According to Dzhulian and his co-founder Yoanna Koleva, there is a lucrative market for industrial drone applications, which is not currently served by the large international makers of UAVs. “The big drone manufacturers cater almost exclusively to the photography and videography market, and aren’t paying enough attention yet to other emerging use cases”, they say. “The surge in popularity of video UAVs has created an entire class of professional drone pilots, who are interested and able to fly drones for other purposes, if they have the right hardware equipment”. According to Dzhulian and Yoanna, most of the industrial drones we see on the market today are either non-purpose models modified by drone operator companies, or older models that have lower range and payload capabilities.
Dzhulian says that drones with the kind of payload and range offered by Salvatore and Azriel, the company’s latest model and the one that D Aerospace is expecting to put in serial production, have a huge market potential. “Think about Search-and-Rescue missions, law enforcement, and agricultural processes like crop-dusting and monitoring, says Dzhulian. “A lot of the work that’s either done by helicopters, or not done via the air at all, can actually be done by a drone that’s powerful, versatile, and affordable enough”.
With its newest model, Azriel, which is leaner and more efficient than the Salvatore prototype, with a similar weight but a significantly improved flight time of 60 minutes and a payload of up to 18 kilograms, Dzhulian, Yoanna, and their team have built up a pipeline of over 10 validated leads, and they hope to close the first commercial contract next month with one of the potential buyers who are currently implementing flight tests.
Photo courtesy: D Aerospace
Today Dzhulian and Yoanna are busy assembling the first units, a process that takes about a week for each drone, and closing the first paid clients. In order to be able to scale the operation, they are gearing up to raise the next round of financing, as soon as the first revenue comes in. “We believe that once we validate the business case with customers who are happy with Azriel, D Aerospace can quickly scale to up to 5 drones manufactured and sold each month”, they say.
At Vitosha, we’re very proud of the progress D Aerospace has made in less than two years since the start of the first conceptual design, and with limited financial resources. With a clear potential not only to deliver a globally competitive product, but also to put Bulgaria squarely on the international aerospace market map, this company is going places and we’re proud to support it.