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Drone-tech startup Garuda Aerospace is spreading wings

Set up in 2015, the company is tying up with PSUs and private companies to bring end-to-end solutions for defence and agriculture

Naini Thaker
Published: Jun 7, 2023 04:06:03 PM IST
Updated: Jun 9, 2023 07:07:38 PM IST

Drone-tech startup Garuda Aerospace is spreading wingsAgnishwar Jayaprakash, founder and CEO, Garuda Aerospace

When Agnishwar Jayaprakash decided to set out as an entrepreneur, he had a clear agenda: Disruption through emerging technologies. Back in 2015, drone manufacturing was still nascent, but Jayaprakash was certain it will take off. Today, Garuda Aerospace has 750+ clients and close to 30+ types of drones that offer more than 50 services across 84 cities in India. 

The turning point, not just for Garuda Aerospace, but also for the sector was the implementation of a new set of liberalised rules—Drone Rules, 2021—to help the industry grow faster. According to an estimate by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, India’s drone sector will achieve a turnover of Rs12,000-15,000 crore by 2026, from about Rs80 crore currently. “Back then, we had two major challenges. The regulations were archaic—a lot of licences were needed—and second, there wasn’t enough funding available,” says Jayaprakash. But since 2021, Garuda Aerospace has seen phenomenal growth—with defence and agriculture being revenue drivers for the company. 

About two weeks ago, the drone-tech startup and Naini Aerospace Engineering Ltd (NAeL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), signed a joint development partnership to manufacture advanced precision drones. Approximately 5,000 drones have been planned in the first year, under this partnership. “We have pre-booked over 8,000 drones at Rs4.5 lakh each. Partnerships with government PSUs are critical given the knowledge and experience they possess to scale up production. We will continue to stay focussed, and partner with industry leaders,” says Jayaprakash. 

Garuda’s flagship drone—Vajra—for the defence sector was showcased at the Defence Expo 2022. They have signed a partnership with Lockheed Martin Canada CDL and Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) to provide advanced Uncrewed Aerial Systems software solutions for defence and commercial purposes. Garuda has also partnered with BEML at Aero India for drone manufacturing at their Mysuru facility. The startup has also collaborated with close to 120 local suppliers with the objective of reducing reliance on foreign imports of drone parts, components, and UAV subsystems. 

Earlier this year, Garuda Aerospace also started working with Cognizant to bring a plethora of end-to-end drone-based management and monitoring offerings for businesses across sectors—this will help advance capabilities and improve overall productivity for the drone services provided. Achal Kataria, vice president and India country head, Cognizant, says, “Drone services are one of the fastest growing technology segments with the potential to provide extraordinary value to industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, energy and utilities, retail and logistics.” 

Helping farmers 

Apart from defence, a massive revenue driver for the company is agriculture. Its flagship product under this sector—the Garuda Kisan Drone—has proven to be immensely helpful for farmers. For about 40 crore acres of farmland, each acre needs to be sprayed eight to ten times a year. Farmers pay Rs 400 per acre, per spray for it, which means they are spending close to Rs25,000 crore each year. He explains, “Our drones help with field inspection, large-scale mapping and spraying fertilisers and pesticides. We have noticed a 23-27 percent increase in food crop productivity because there is 70 percent less use of pesticides and 80 percent less use of water. Ultimately, it is a lot cheaper for farmers to adopt drones.” 

Of the Rs 1 lakh crore that is a part of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF), Rs 1,000 crore has been allocated to drones. “Government initiatives such as agri-drone subsidy and drone loans for farmers, will also help create a faster impact on the ground,” adds Jayaprakash. In January 2023, the startup announced its partnership with the Union Bank of India, wherein 150 Garuda Kisan Drones have received a sanction for drone loans under the AIF. 

One major change that drones have brought about is giving the younger generation a “dignity of labour”. Adds Jayaprakash, “Most next-generation farmers don’t want to become farmers. Drone-based solutions give them a tag of a ‘technocrat’ and they feel more respected. I think going forward this will change agriculture as we know it.” 

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched 100 Garuda Kisan drones in February 2022, Jayaprakash says, “We have seen a lot of demand, not just from India, but also Malaysia, South America and the Gulf countries. We aim to export 10,000 drones in the next 4 to 6 months.” 

Also read: Agriculture 4.0 is a potential solution to meet food and climate goals

Drone-tech startup Garuda Aerospace is spreading wingsRecently, Garuda Aerospace and Naini Aerospace Engineering Ltd (NAeL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), signed a joint development partnership to manufacture advanced precision drones

Expanding further 

The startup has raised $22 million in an early-stage funding round led by venture capital firm SphitiCap and its valuation stands at $250 million. With this new funding, the company hopes to scale up further and work on building advanced drone solutions for the armed forces and the aerospace sector in collaboration with global companies. 

“Garuda is a growth-oriented, innovation-led startup. The way they have translated their entire vision into the work on-ground, led us to believe in them and invest in the company,” says Pallav Kumar Singh, managing partner, SphitiCap. In June 2022, MS Dhoni also invested an undisclosed amount in the startup and became its brand ambassador. 

According to data provided by Tofler, in FY22, the company clocked in a revenue of Rs15 crore and turned profitable. Jayaprakash claims that in FY23, the revenue touched Rs47 crore and by FY24 he expects it to touch Rs800-1,000 crore. The company has two revenue streams: Selling drones and providing ‘drone-as-a-service’. Selling drones accounts for 55 percent of its revenue and the latter is 45 percent of its total revenue. Garuda aims to sell over 25,000 drones in the next 18 months, across sectors. They have manufacturing facilities in Chennai and Haryana so far. 

Also read: 5 hurdles India needs to overcome to become a global drone hub by 2030

“The latest round of funds,” explains the founder and CEO, “will be used for skilling and training of drone pilots and help generate employment opportunities, especially in Tier-II and III cities. Additionally, we are also planning to equip our drones with enhanced payload capacities, quality sensors, data embedding and allied tech solutions.” Garuda operates more than 400 drones and has 500 drone pilots and clients such as TATA, Godrej, Adani, Reliance, Swiggy, SAIL, IOCL and many more. Singh adds, “They are not just focussed on profits & growths, but also on creating an impact on the ground, by creating more training institutes, which will eventually help the entire drone-tech ecosystem in India.” 

Outside of defence and agriculture, the startup is looking to continue deploying drones across a range of sectors, including video surveillance drones, emergency supply drones, delivery drones and more. The next big milestone for Jayaprakash: Garuda Aerospace’s IPO. 

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