Africa crowddroning market

Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm, Former Head of Sales at Globhe

Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm

Former Head of Sales at Globhe

Globhe, a Swedish drone company often called the “Uber of Drones,” provides scalable crowddroning services in Africa. Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm, Head of Sales, discusses opportunities for impact on the continent. The company has partnered with the University of Liverpool to pioneer new ways to combat malaria outbreaks.

Arnaud Henneville-Wedholm

I am French, was born in Cameroon and lived abroad for a few years before returning to Sweden, where I am based. I studied in France and the UK, and after completing my MBA, I worked in change management and strategy execution for a management consulting firm that served Fortune 500 companies. Later, I started my own HR tech company. Despite working with leading organizations across industries, we failed to scale and ultimately sold the tech platform after six years of hard work.

This experience of ‘failure’ led me to write a book that details the essential aspects of running a startup. Titled ‘How Hard Can It Be,’ the book offers a behind-the-scenes narrative of the startup world and is set to release in October of this year.

I’ve been in several startups and scale-ups and am now the head of business development and sales for Globhe, a company founded in 2014 by our charismatic CEO Helena Samsioe, whose work with drones has been featured in BBC, CNN, Fast Company, and pretty much everywhere, and has positioned her as a voice in the drone industry.

About Globhe

One way to describe Globhe is that we are the “Uber” of drones. We are a crowdsourcing platform that aggregates certificated drone companies and pilots from around the world and gets them to work in the industries we focus on. We are a software-as-a-service platform that specializes in providing data on demand for our clients. We call our concept ‘Crowddroning.’

Several things could be improved in the drone industry. One major issue in the drone industry is the complicated process of requesting specific pictures and videos. It requires significant research to understand the procedures, who to contact, and their roles.

Another area for improvement is placing orders. It can be pretty tricky because, typically, drone companies sell themselves on the number of hours they spend on inspections, which leaves the client unsure of what to expect and with the real possibility that issues such as adverse weather could impact the quality of what they receive – or at least be delayed due to external events.

We solve these problems for the client by providing certainty around the outcomes and structuring their payments in megabytes per data and weight. Whether you are erecting an antenna in the telecom industry, scanning a field, a lake, or a power line, or working on post-disaster relief efforts, you are ultimately just collecting data. And so, our angle is straightforward: we sell data on demand through our crowd-drowning platform and provide our clients with certainty around their final product, the data they need to help them make the necessary decisions. We believe it’s the right way to do it from a client’s perspective because this guarantees the best value for the client at fairer pricing.

 

Scalability

We sit in Stockholm with representation. That said, we have 4000+ registered companies, consultants, and pilots of all sorts on our platform, which have all been vetted by us. We deploy our pilots globally, on demand.

African Operations

Quite a few things are going on at the moment. We focus on four verticals: water, infrastructure, health, and environment. Telecom is a typical area for us. We work globally in this regard and are proud to have signed one of the most significant telecom contracts of any drone company in the history of the drone business, with a world-leading telecoms company, which essentially ensures that we deploy drones on demand whenever and wherever they ask us to do so.

We are currently flying in Angola, where we’re inspecting telecom antennas for an asset management project where the end client wants a concrete inventory of what they own and where, and having that data digitized and basically, creating an online version of what you would find in whatever other country. This is quite interesting because by scrolling and zooming from anywhere in the world, they can see the type of equipment and what needs to be ordered or repaired. This is much more efficient for them and provides, as you can imagine, a lot of added value in having those scans available.

Growth in Africa

We do two jobs right now; the first is purely commercial, where there’s a clear need, whether in forestry, telecom, or dams. Many dams in Africa need to be inspected and monitored over time. And then there’s the whole aspect of disaster relief, where our work is environment-based, and we work with many actors in the non-profit and governmental sphere, such as the United Nations and the various UN agencies. We’ve been working notably in Malawi with UNICEF on cholera control to track how the situation is evolving and the parts of the country most prone to outbreaks.

We do the same thing with malaria.

We are pioneering, together with the University of Liverpool, top research into predicting the strength of malaria outbreaks in areas based on specific coloration in aspects of the lakes due to the growth of malaria-carrying mosquito eggs on the lakes. So, using detailed imagery, we can anticipate and prevent a forthcoming malaria pandemic. The range of things you can do with drones is pretty fascinating, and these are some of the areas we hope to help solve through our partnerships with the UN, UN agencies, and universities trying to move the needle there.

For Good

We do not support detrimental practices such as deforestation in places like the Amazon. There are also grey areas; for example, even though we have not worked on oil facilities before, scanning pipelines to prevent human-led disasters could be a noble objective. So, despite not being a non-profit, we research before taking on projects, hoping for good outcomes.

Operations in Conflict Zones

We have a global contract, and that could happen. We have not received an on-demand request to deploy in conflict zones yet, but it’s possible we could operate in an area like Myanmar.

We’ve worked in areas where the weather could be challenging. We had to abort a mission in Angola the day before because it was pouring heavily. That’s an exciting environment to be active in, for sure.

African Market Entry

What we’ve learned is that every market has its challenges. In Africa, drone operations are mainly highly regulated. Europe just voted and passed drone regulations in December 2020, so drone operations have some harmony – suitable for the whole industry.

On the other hand, it seems more country-specific in Africa; we never know what we’ll get. In some countries we’ve worked in, we’ve had to deal with the local governments and other actors naturally, like civil aviation and customs, etc. We are fortunate because our model allows us to leverage the existing assets of already active companies in these countries. The companies already have the necessary certificate requirements and authorizations; all that’s needed is to fly. So, this makes it much easier for us to operate than if we had our drone fleets going into a country. That would be unscalable.

Engaging local actors

The clients benefit from the local support and connections that we deploy. So, it tends to be smooth. We would love to have it even smoother, but it’s feasible and working.

Challenges Operating in Africa

We must double-check the local capabilities because we rely on people’s expertise. For example, scanning a telecom antenna differs from flying horizontally and taking pictures in an agricultural location. There’s a specific way of rotating around the antenna and taking an adequate number of pictures to stitch them together correctly to represent that antenna virtually.

We need to ensure that the pilots are up to speed regarding specific knowledge, which they tend to be. We first select the right candidate for every project based on location, equipment, availability, price point, etc. We then onboard to be ready for the project and then roll out. So, I would say it’s a bit of a longer lead time than it would take a European or US-based drone consultant who has been doing this for 20 years and has received education in the field.

Often, people locally have learned by doing and, over time, have become good pilots. But there are only so many schools where you can learn to fly and operate drones, which is also something that we want to look into, supporting capability and building and transferring knowledge on the ground in countries that may need it. So, there’s an enormous potential for providing local knowledge exchange, support, and transfer. This is beneficial in the short term for our pilots and long term for the industry, and most importantly, it helps bring jobs to countries – jobs that will stay in those countries and accelerate development.

Canada

In many ways, Canada is very similar to Sweden; we both have loads of forests. We would love the opportunity to discuss with the local actors, both on the drone side and potential partners in Canada, that could be part of our crowd-drowning efforts.

So, we are happy to invite as many Canadian friends as possible to join us on this mission as clients or partners in projecting drone capabilities to solve problems in Canada, Africa, and worldwide. We are looking for opportunities to collaborate and are exploring ways to join forces with Canadian players to scale our solution in the regions that need it.

I look forward to being at your event in July. Thank you, Anthony, for the opportunity and the conversation.