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The Best Minds in Drone-Making Meet in This North Dakota Town

The Best Minds in Drone-Making Meet in This North Dakota Town
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This story appears in the August 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Once a month, the best minds in drone making gather in Fargo to talk all things airborne. Drones, you say? Yep. Drone Focus is a meeting for everyone interested in the space -- from developers to clients -- to powwow about the fast-growing industry. And Fargo is just the spot to do it. There are currently 18 drone-related companies in North Dakota, and the state has invested $34 million in growing unmanned aircraft operations, research and businesses. “What makes Fargo unique is that the end user sits next to the entrepreneur and they solve the problem together,” says Greg Tehven, cofounder of local networking hub Emerging Prairie, which hosts the get-together.

Joey Schmit, for example, is the founder of the year-old drone services provider Flight Pros, and he meets directly with Nolan Berg and Adam Spelhaug of Peterson Farm Seeds to hash out how the technology can better aid Peterson's operation. “It's pretty much the perfect match to work directly with a customer,” Schmit says. “They're informing you of exactly what they want in their deliverables.”

Fargo has another thing going for itself: “Unencumbered airspace five minutes outside of town,” says Terri Zimmerman, CEO of Fargo-based drone company Botlink. In other words, it's real quiet out there, which makes the local skies perfect for testing, refining and actual work. “Our users, primarily in agriculture and construction, can collect data on their businesses in real time,” says Zimmerman, whose cloud-based platform allows clients to watch over extensive acreages, such as oil fields or farms. Now she's looking to build clients beyond state lines, including Europe, Australia and the Middle East.

Sure, Fargo does have some downsides -- like its guaranteed annual snowstorms. But after a blizzard hits, city officials might now send a drone out, not humans, to check on downed power lines and unsafe roads. 

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Edition: October 2016

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