How a Military Vet Used Drone Technology to Launch New Niche Business with SBA Loan
Innovation has a way of spawning new creations beyond the original application. Take drones, for example. Originally developed for military purposes, this unique technology has given thousands of entrepreneurs a platform to launch myriad new small businesses.
Army veteran Sinuhe Montoya is one such entrepreneur who embraced drone technology and his drive to be his own boss to give flight to a new business called DroneQuote, a free service for homeowners and businesses looking to install solar or a new roof.
“During my deployment in Iraq, the Army would send up drones to help us detect IEDs (improvised explosive devices) buried in the roads,” Sinuhe said. “They sounded like flying lawnmowers and piqued my fascination.”
A New Idea Takes Flight
Fast-forward to Sinuhe’s exit from the Army. He enrolled in and eventually graduated from The Rosie Network’s Service2CEO initiative – a 12-month individualized entrepreneurship and financial literacy training program for transitioning service members in San Diego. He soon became a top-performing sales representative for a residential solar contractor, which required him to climb up on roofs to get exact measurements for installing solar panels. Not a risk-free endeavor.
“I’m only 5’6” and not used be being that high off the ground,” he said with a wry smile. “It was a little scary up there.”
To ease his anxiety, Sinuhe bought a small drone and started using it to capture the precise roof computations he needed. It was safer and quicker. His customers liked the drone use, too, because it eliminated the chance of damage to their roof. That’s when the idea for DroneQuote took flight.
He envisioned taking the salesperson out of the equation and developing a sophisticated website that would empower homeowners interested in solar or a new roof to get free bids directly from five contractors. They could review all the bids side by side and make their selection right there on the site to kick-start their business.
Financing Becomes Key to Funding Innovation
Creating his high-functioning, online portal and proprietary software required a serious investment of cash, which led him to CDC Small Business Finance. The community-based lender is focused on providing small business loans to underserved communities such as military veterans.
Sinuhe, along with his partner Riley Wiggins, received a $93,000 SBA small business loan, which got DroneQuote off the ground in 2017 and provided a cushion of working capital until a reliable income stream could be established.
“Working with CDC was easy,” said Sinuhe. “They helped me along the way, aligned my expectations with the process and told me everything I needed to do. I enjoyed working with CDC and would do it again if I need more financing in the future.”
That day may come soon. Sinuhe now has access to a squadron of drone pilots – all FAA certified – which he deploys to homes throughout San Diego and, more recently, Orange County. And he’s in the process of becoming a vendor for the state of California so he can provide service in other cities and qualify for government work contracts, which is promising.
As the business grows, Sinuhe anticipates expanding via franchising and will lean toward granting franchises to other military veterans because “they are disciplined by nature and know procedures,” which drone piloting demands.
Flush With New Business Motivates Partners
As for Riley, he frequents multiple real estate broker caravans every month, spreading the word about DroneQuote and generating homeowner inquiries on the company website.
“We get email alerts whenever a homeowner requests a quote,” Riley said. ”It makes me want to jump out of bed every morning and check my email. It means our system is working.”
As Sinuhe reflects on what he’s accomplished in such a short time, he lights on some guidance for would-be, start-up entrepreneurs: “Have a very clear idea of what you want to do with your business. You have to be niche focused. You can’t hit a target if your aim is not clear.” Spoken like a true military veteran.
Are you a military veteran looking for a small business loan? CDC Small Business Finance is proud to bring our lending expertise to veteran entrepreneurs.
Learn more at Mission: Small Business Finance.