BZB UAS is a Polish start-up founded by enthusiasts who specialise in the design, integration and production of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [UAVs] intended for civil applications. With the rapid development of drones, their usage has rocketed in many industries. Two students decided to face the challenge and meet emerging needs. Their autonomous aerial systems help to monitor and collect high precision data from extensive areas such as forests or agriculture lands.
The owners of BZB UAS needed to overcome many obstacles to stand at the place where they’re now. The challenges ranged from finding the right financial support, through creating a top-quality application with the help of HeroDOT, up to launching a comprehensive product. Would you like to know how they managed to go through all these processes successfully?
We caught up with Kacper Budnik and Jan Byrtek, respectively CEO and CTO of BZB UAS, to find out their business story.
Michał Wapiński, HeroDOT: We’ve heard that you aren’t only colleagues from one company, but also very close friends. How did your adventure with BZB UAS start? Where did the idea come from?
Kacper Budnik, CEO at BZB UAS: Yes, that's right, we know each other very well. We both were students at Wrocław University of Technology. We met at JetStream Scientific Club, operating within the Academic Aviation Association, where we used to design aircraft together for the contests such as SAE Aero Design organized in the United States and UAP Challenge in Australia.
As we managed to achieve great results, many people became interested in it. Before we set up our business, we had been regularly winning international awards in competitions which managed to bring the best students, enthusiasts and professionalists from all over the world. We’ve proved that we have the potential to create great things.
We used the knowledge acquired during studies in the field of electronics, engineering and aerodynamics in the process of creating and developing our business. Since 2017, we managed to grow at such a pace that currently BZB UAS is an interdisciplinary team of specialists designing aircraft comprehensively - from aerodynamics, through mechanical design, to every smallest part inside its instruction.
But has it always been so easy and pleasant? What were your beginnings - where did you get the finances from as you were only students at that time?
Jan Byrtek, CTO at BZB UAS: As a start-up, we needed to go through many bureaucratic processes. Primarily, we had a promise from one of the investors that he would financially secure our projects. However, the situation has changed and he backed off. We had already developed all the structures needed to run the company and applied for the EU funds that were directed towards the firms that offered services like us. We knew that when these funds eventually came, it would be a good starting point for us.
Nevertheless, we needed financial stabilisation to guarantee the highest possible quality on the market and, predominantly, have a chance to receive the EU funds. That’s why we were actively looking for another investor and finally succeeded to find a person a week before the final deadline. It allowed us to stay independent, have enough sources to provide top-quality products, and gain area to develop.
What would you say to the people that are currently thinking of setting up their own businesses? What kind of advice would you give them?
Kacper Budnik: From my experience, the best advice I can give is that first, they should do their best to find a customer for their product or service. It guarantees a financial stabilisation at the beginning, where various costs are proliferating. Fixed income allows you to focus on growing your business instead of going to the banks and looking for loans. For instance, that’s when you can concentrate on milestone investments such as creating an iPad application, thanks to which your product gets several times better.
This is how BZB UAS and HeroDOT met. You were looking for a company that would help you with creating BZB Planner – an app that enables users to control the UAV with the use of an iPad. Could you tell us more about our cooperation, and what have you achieved by that?
Jan Byrtek: We had three main requirements before creating an application. First of all, we needed a company that could design a comprehensive iOS application, as iPads are a standard tool used in aviation. Secondly, we had to have a possibility to transfer telemetric data from the aircraft into the application. Lastly, since human factors cause 80% of accidents in large and small aviation, our goal was to minimise human intervention in flight operations. We were looking for a company that will be able to guarantee the transparency and simplicity of flight controls. Particularly considering the fact that the end-users of BZB UAS’ unmanned aerial vehicles are non-technical people such as farmers.
The cooperation with HeroDOT was excellent. Currently, thanks to it, we have an application that offers the most intuitive flight route planning on the market. The clarity about how the work was going was great, which was a leading factor in achieving success. We were in constant contact - we had access to Jira, we talked regularly using tools such as Slack. Consequently, we managed to create the final product of the highest possible quality.
The application designed by HeroDOT is transparent and easy-to-use, which minimises the stress of operating an aerial vehicle by a non-technical person. It radically simplifies the route planning process as compared to other solutions on the market. All tracks are implemented prior to take-off, while at the time of flight, the drone is controlled autonomously, which significantly increases the safety of UAVs operations. Users can easily create, save, upload and stop flight missions, and monitor all parameters at every stage of the flight. In addition to all this, the application meets the highest aesthetic quality.
We hope that soon we’ll be able to develop our application further and introduce new possibilities to it through cooperation with HeroDOT.
You say that you aim to develop your application further - does it mean that the situation on the UAVs market in Poland right now is very good and there’s still plenty of space to invest in it?
Kacper Budnik: In 2017, we started with working on designing and producing UAVs for the commercial use in forestry, agriculture and geodesy. It was a base for our project as the EU funds were directed towards these sectors of the economy, and we were sure we would be able to find customers there. It’s also good because we have perfectly planned periods for each of the industries mentioned. In agriculture our systems are needed from July to October, in forestry from September to November, and geodesy from December till the end of June.
Nonetheless, over time, our actions have extensively expanded. Currently, we’re also cooperating with corporations outside these industries such as PKN Orlen, a leading player on the fuels and energy markets in Central and Eastern Europe. For instance, our task for PKN Orlen is to monitor and find illegal attempts of interfering in their pipelines. Our system allows them to determine if an individual is stealing or connecting to the pipeline without permission. This is the best proof that our solutions can be adapted to various other industries apart from this mentioned at the beginning, but they need to have enough financial reasons to invest in it.
As far as we know, selling UAVs is not the only thing you offer your customers - what other services do you provide?
Jan Byrtek: It’s true, not only do we sell UAVs, but we also provide our customers with theoretical and practical training in drone operation. Recently, this coaching we offer took place with the city guards in Wrocław.
We provided them with one training drone, two drones for measuring the level of air pollution emitted from chimneys, and one reconnaissance drone equipped with a thermal imaging camera and a camera with 30x zoom.
Thanks to this, the Municipal Police in Wrocław will be able to detect air pollution. For example, our system will be useful for identifying whether waste made of polyvinyl chloride is incinerated, i.e. window frames, PVC cladding, polystyrene, plastic bottles, wet wood, etc.
Are you planning to go abroad with your offer?
Kacper Budnik: We managed to work out a plan for domestic and foreign expansion. In Poland, we’ll focus on offering services, training and selling retail. Whereas abroad, we’ll trade the patented system as a whole. We also applied for funding as we want to create a new production line and be able to sell our UAVs to the new foreign markets. That's the plan that we hope to fulfil.
Is the current COVID-19 pandemic changing anything in your actions or strategy?
Kacper Budnik: We have an unusual situation as our office belongs to the state and it was taken over by the voivode and the army. We had to move out immediately. On the one hand, we were left without an office. However, on the other hand, we don’t incur fees for it. We had to adapt to the new style of working remotely and quickly prepare our employees for it. This was extremely demanding at first, but we handled it. Another big challenge that we needed to face was moving servers, and here we also succeeded.
Similarly, like many other people in the world, the pandemic has slightly negatively influenced our actions. We were about to implement our systems and UAVs in the Fire Brigade in Wroclaw in early April. We were also supposed to have another training for Municipal Police at the end of March. For known reasons, it needed to be moved.
Nevertheless, we have already dealt with many challenges in our history and came out of it unscathed. Fortunately, our situation is very stable at the moment. We have a lot of work, and we intend to develop further and take the next steps to contribute to helping new clients also in the new sectors.