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The Future Is Here: An Interview with Uplift Data Partners President Suzanne El-Moursi

If you believe Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics—and we’re inclined to do so—the future of the drone industry is in construction, and so we’ve been learning more about companies that use UAVs to support construction and other commercial endeavors, like real estate and broadcasting.

Enter Uplift Data Partners, a drone company that helps construction companies by collecting data via UAV, enabling them to build more quickly and more efficiently.

Here’s a time lapse video from Uplift showing the construction of a huge industrial warehouse:

We first met the folks over at Uplift when we were doing research on companies to add to our list of 80 Drone Companies to Watch in 2017. Recently we sat down with Uplift Data Partners president Suzanne El-Moursi to learn more about their operations, and how they use UAVs to support construction companies and other commercial enterprises.

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: Describe what Uplift Data Partners does in one sentence.

Suzanne El-Moursi: Uplift Data Partners is a turn-key solution for construction companies to adopt drone data into their business operations. We fly and our clients get engineering grade reporting.

UAV Coach: What separates Uplift Data Partners from other companies in the end-to-end commercial drone space?

Suzanne El-Moursi: We are unique from other companies servicing the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry in two ways:

  1. Our Pilot Network—We have the most qualified pilot network of 400+ construction trained pilots. Our Pilot Network platform is one of our greatest assets: We hand-select pilots into our network, then go above and beyond in training them specifically on the requirements for construction missions. By furthering their industry-specific skills, our pilots capture the highest quality of drone data.
  2. Engineering Grade Reporting—Our data processing ability to turn drone-captured raw data into engineering grade reporting is what makes our clients satisfaction scores and overall sentiment extremely positive. Our depth of understanding in the civil engineering process and deliverables allows us to deliver engineering grade insight and answers in a very user-friendly format.

We find that these two reasons lead existing clients to go to us with more sites, and lead trial clients to convert to recurring customers.

An Uplift video featuring a construction site in Zurich

UAV Coach: Can you tell us about a construction project where Uplift’s contributions were crucial to a successful outcome? (This could be in terms of overall savings, early discovery of major problems, helping planners and crew communicate more efficiently, etc.—we’re really just looking for a concrete story about drones making an impact in construction.)

Suzanne El-Moursi: We take client confidentiality very serious, so without revealing critical information, here are two great examples—

Case Study 1:

Site Details: Detroit government building ($150M)

The Problem:

  • Half-built project, bidding reopened
  • Inaccurate plans meant tough to create accurate bid

The Action:

  • Fly the site
  • Use 3D model for updated bid

The Result:

  • Won the project due to accuracy of bid

Case Study 2:

Site Details: Virginia high-rise ($500M)

The Problem:

  • Contaminated soil detected on the site
  • Needed to be hauled off-site immediately
  • The nature of the site is: 1) busy site, 2) hard to track sitework contractor, 3) hard to reconcile measurements

The Action:

  • We provided weekly volume measurements to our GC client allowing them to know exactly how much it would cost.

The Result:

  • $32,000 savings

UAV Coach: You’ve been active in the tech world for quite a while. What drew you to doing work with drones specifically?

Suzanne El-Moursi: The transformative value of this new technology platform. I believe that drones will have an impact on society like the internet has had.

However, when this opportunity presented itself to me, I didn’t know enough about drones and their transformative value to business. I had a steep learning curve in front of me, but that’s what attracted me to the opportunity.

I’m a firm believer that the professional experiences that take you furthest from your comfort zone are ones that’ll teach you the most.

What I did bring to the table was a robust career in technology and the digital age, a strong track record in UX design to solve business problems, and a passion and hunger for startups.

I backed all that up with a deep understanding of entrepreneurial principles, coupled with an MBA from Chicago Booth. I was confident that with these three lenses—technology operations, design thinking, and startup business management—I would conquer my learning curve and build this business.

UAV Coach: Can you tell us about your work as an advisor for Women in Commercial Drones, which is part of the Commercial Drone Alliance? Please fill us in about the organization and what you do to support it.

Suzanne El-Moursi: Like most technology sectors, women working with drones are far and few.

However, after attending every leading drone conference and event in the past 8 months, I feel positive this new sector could attract more women than I’ve ever witnessed in my technology career.

As an advisor, my goals, and the goals of the Women in Commercial Drones effort, is as follows:

1. Provide women with a like-minded community of other women who share a passion for the drone era.

2. Support women across various industries to help them understand the impact of drones on their business, regulations, and scenarios of use.

3. Mentor entrepreneurial women who are building drone businesses with real-life startup experience and lessons learned idea to acquisition.

4. Give a platform for women to raise up and participate, across various aspects of this infant technology era, to help shape it with diverse points of view.

UAV Coach: What is your favorite part of the work you do with Uplift Data Partners?

Suzanne El-Moursi: Building the business by way of building a team culture, and leading the team in a way that encourages and empowers them to think about the business every day.

My number one quality, if I can address it from a perspective of strength, is to lead with passion. If I did not have a passion for this idea, this business would not thrive. It’s extremely tough to build a company and the odds are against you every single day for a very long time. I believe the only way you can keep getting up, showing up, and doing your best is to be infectious in your hunger and passion for the idea and building a healthy business around it.

When I joined Uplift there were only two people, and today we are 12. Every single one of us has joined because of a shared passion, hunger, and optimism for the future. Our diversity of thought comes from our individual perspective, backgrounds, and creative execution. We work very hard and we execute with lightspeed.

An Uplift video featuring wind turbines in Marseilles

UAV Coach: Do you fly drones yourself? If so, what kind?

Suzanne El-Moursi: Yes! I am in love with the DJI Mavic.

dji mavic

We love these bad boys too!

UAV Coach: What are your predictions for the drone industry? Please feel free to answer at length (what you see way down the road, what you see for next year, where you see regulations headed in the U.S. and/or elsewhere, new applications, etc.).

Suzanne El-Moursi: I have so much to say about this—I’m going to break out my answer by regulations and scenarios.

Regulations:

In the USA, I do believe the FAA will find it very beneficial and worthwhile to get states involved by pushing regulations down to the state level.

As adoption increases, asking one entity to regulate and manage all commercial activity is too taxing of a request. Getting states involved will encourage businesses like ours to work closer with each state, and that close line of communication will be beneficial to all parties.

Additionally, different states would be incentivized to participate in various POC efforts and better refine their regulations in support of their primary industries. This helps encourage industry adoption.

Scenarios:

Drones will efficiently replace dangerous human jobs and save lives in the process.

Examples of such jobs include those done at extreme heights or that involve stopping crime, as well as performing inspections.

1. BVLOS transmission line inspections with machine learning for detecting errors—detecting overheating.

2. Full adoption of integrated project delivery for construction. Period. We will get to a moment in time where not using drones will cost engineers more than using them. It is no longer acceptable nor sustainable to build and operate according to the status quo.

3. A classic case of disruption, Blockbuster to Netflix, for the surveyor industry and the technical skills of the surveyor.

4. Inspections in the insurance and risk management industry will be customarily completed via drones because it will enable faster data mining to assess how to mitigate cost/claims.

5. Transporting water to drought areas.

6. Transporting organs for organ transplants

7. Become an integral part of the Secret Service operation in protecting the President and the White House.

8. Fighting Crime!

  • Monitoring for border control, underground drug smuggling via tunnels (Yes, they will detect through the earth as they do now!)
  • Public Safety will augment their shortage in labor force by using drones and dispatching them in areas of high crime. Take a city like Chicago and it’s rising crime rate, and shortage in its police force. How can it ever successfully fight crime when it’s short on personnel?

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