For a mixed-topography country (high mountains, hills, and flat plains) like Nepal, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly called drones, can prove to be a boon. An appropriately-abled UAV with the right mix of hardware and software can be airborne in minutes and deployed in areas where any other form of intervention can take days or weeks. This was proved when the earthquake in 2015 struck and a few foreign voluntary organizations used UAVs to assess disaster and aid immediate response. Since there were no prior directives on such unmanned flights, the government quickly imposed a flurry of sanctions to ensure civil security breaches did not occur. But there is no doubting the fact that robots, such as drones, are radically transforming multiple industries worldwide through dramatic gains in efficiency and productivity.
WeRobotics, a global non-profit organization engaged in creating a future where local communities can use robotics for social good is accelerating such efforts globally through its network of social innovation labs that aim to build local capacity with robotics technology. A part of the global WeRobotics network, Nepal Flying Labs (NFL) is a local robotics innovation lab that is engaged in developing local demand and capacity in delivering drone-based services by providing training, equipment, and technical expertise to local businesses and new service providers. Uttam Pudasaini, a geomatics engineer from Kathmandu University, is the Country Representative for WeRobotics and Coordinator for Nepal Flying Labs. “As a part of our effort to leverage technical skills and readily available drone mapping hard-and-software to develop drone-related service businesses in Nepal, we recently organized the ‘drone as a service’ Business Incubation Program, along with our local partners Nepal Engineers’ Association (NEA) and Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN). The objective of the Program was to complement our technical trainings and projects, and to create a platform for young engineers and local companies to create new businesses using drone technology,” shared Uttam.
The incubation program was spread across four stages – a call for ideation from February through March 15, and a pitching event on March 18 at NEA, where four finalists were chosen; a five-day business development seminar where international experts helped the finalists to turn their ideas into a solid business plan; a five-week business development period where the finalists received office space at NEABIC and USD 500 in cash to iterate and validate their business plan; ending with a business plan competition where a jury comprising Janak Raj Joshi, technical expert, Abhaya Poudel, finance expert, Bibhusan Bista, innovation expert, and Gisli Olafsson, member WeRobotics Board selected the winning team a business incubation and kick-starting fund of USD 7500. Honorable Ramesh Lekhak, Nepal’s Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport awarded Team Dronepal for their business on survey and mapping using drones.
For the winning team of Darpan Pudasaini, Pravin Lamsal, and Milan Karki, the startup funding, mentoring by international and local experts, and networking, were a huge bonus. Milan shared that as engineers and techies often the management and business development aspects need focused guidance and that is exactly what the incubation program provided, helping them communicate their overall business objective and revenue model. Niraj Khanal, co-founder and CEO at Antarprerana, shared that the program had brought forth a whole new set of people to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and the Antarprerana team was delighted to have been able to share their expertise in fine-tuning the business models and strategy development of the finalists. “It was an amazing amalgamation of technical acumen and business skills. This combination is what more entrepreneurs need to build sustainable, and viable businesses in Nepal,” shared Niraj.
Hare Ram Shrestha, President NEA, shared the role of his organization in promoting technological entrepreneurship in Nepal. “It is through events such as this that we can use our network of people and resources alongside technical expertise to allow young, driven engineers and technologists to develop businesses that benefit the country at large. We are happy to have been an integral part of this collaboration.”
Undoubtedly this business incubation program has triggered untapped potential which will boost technology-led entrepreneurship in Nepal.