Casper Start-Up Challenge helps launch drone project - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Casper Start-Up Challenge helps launch drone project

Nicol Kramer and Todd Kramer, owners of Aerial Enforcement Solutions pose with two of their drone prototypes in the hallway of the Wyoming Technology Business Center’s Casper incubator. The couple won the 2017 Casper Start-Up Challenge with their idea of using drones for crowd control. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

By Tom Mast, special to Oil City News 

For a start-up technology company to succeed, it will need many things, not least of which are great ideas, smart product development strategies, and adequate capital.

A fledgling firm also can benefit by examining what it believes about itself and its products, and by obtaining lots of constructive feedback from start-up experts.

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Aerial Enforcement Solutions of Casper makes a drone attachment called The AirGhost. It is designed to help law enforcement agencies quell riots. Todd and Nicol Kramer own the company.

Rather than lobbing tear gas canisters or pepper spraying generally into an unruly crowd, The AirGhost allows police agencies to target accurately small groups or even individual “bad actors.” The AirGhost works in conjunction with cameras mounted on drones and remote controls so peace officers can deploy chemical agents only where they are most needed.

Law enforcement use of aerial drones has ballooned in recent years. According to a Bard College study, drone use by U.S. agencies grew by 518 percent during a recent two-year period. Most were sheriff and police departments but included fire departments and other governmental entities. In addition to crowd control and monitoring, law enforcement officers use drones for search and rescue efforts, traffic collision reconstructions, and locating active shooters.

Potentially, The AirGhost also can be fitted for such tasks as mosquito abatement, dispensing colored smoke, and even putting out spot fires at remote locations.

Canisters on the AirGhost can be filled with smoke or other irritants to help dispel crowds or stop criminals during police situations. The larger drone can also be fitted with fire extinguishing equipment to help control fires. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Todd and Nicol noted that The AirGhost is still in a pre-sales development stage. The next step will be to show and demonstrate the device for law enforcement officials, perhaps in California, Texas, and Colorado.
“Because one of the major applications for this is riot control, some of the larger law enforcement agencies in other states are probably going to be our beta-testers,” Nicol said.

Drone use in Wyoming also is somewhat limited by grassroots privacy concerns, she added.

Todd, an engineer by trade and a drone enthusiast, began tinkering with The AirGhost concept in 2016. But it was the 2017 Casper Start-Up Challenge that really motivated Todd and Nicol to accelerate their product planning and development.

Nicol said the entry phase of the Start-Up Challenge just entailed answering a few questions. But as the field of competitors was winnowed down, subsequent stages became more challenging, which Nicol said accrued to Aerial Enforcement’s benefit.

Aside from Aerial Enforcement, Todd and Nicol have full-time jobs – he at The Safariland Group in Casper and she as an attorney. So, for a while, the Start-Up Challenge required them to pay much greater attention to their entrepreneurial AirGhost efforts.

“We got a lot of feedback from the judges and the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC) staff, ideas on markets and customers, things to focus on as far as strategic planning to roll out the project,” Nicol said. “It was just such a good incentive to take the time to focus on our business idea.”

The Casper Start-Up Challenge is administered through the WTBC, a part of the University of Wyoming. It also receives financial support from the John P. Ellebogen Foundation and the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance.

The aim of the program is “to catalyze Wyoming technology start-up businesses and provide the opportunity to apply for seed money to take the business past concept stage and into real-world first article builds and initial sales,” according to the Start-Up Challenge website.

As one of three Qualifying Finalists to emerge from the 2017 Casper Start-Up Challenge, Aerial Enforcement received $5,000, free office space at the Casper Business Incubator — which is managed by the WTBC – and access to a $50,000 Seed Fund. Staff experts also are available to help Todd and Nicol address start-up issues as the need arises.

Nicol encourages anyone with a start-up company to participate in this year’s Casper Start-Up Challenge.

“The big benefit is getting to vet your ideas and your business strategy, and your business viability, with people who want to see you succeed,” she said.

A fire extinguisher is mounted on an AirGhost drone prototype made by Aerial Enforcement Solutions in Casper. The camera is seen just below the canister. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)
Nicol Kramer and Todd Kramer, owners of Aerial Enforcement Solutions pose with two of their drone prototypes in their office at the Wyoming Technology Business Center’s Casper incubator on Thursday morning. The couple won the 2017 Casper Start-Up Challenge with their idea of using drones for crowd control. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

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How to enter this year’s event
The Casper Start-Up Challenge is open to any new and independent venture in its seed, start-up, or early growth phases. An informational mixer on the 2018 Start-Up Challenge will be held at the Frontier Brewing Company, 117 E 2nd St. in Casper, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Anyone interested in participating is encourage to attend.

Additional information and application materials are available online at https://app.reviewr.com/s1/site/casper2018

The application period for this year’s event is open and the deadline is Sept. 7. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact Jerad Stack, online at jstack@uwyo.edu, or call 307 315-6401.