An interview with drone industry pioneer Jonas Van de Winkel (Argus Vision)

Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing. Especially in a brand-new industry where you can still start out with nothing and reach for the skies. It’s much like the journey Belgian drone-entrepreneur Jonas Van de Winkel is undertaking with his company Argus Vision. He had a vague idea of a business plan, but it resulted in major industrial deals, a partnership with a creative company, Kopterman and several exciting Hollywood-deals. Because, you know, the sky is the limit, right?

Jonas Van de Winkel is an electromechanical engineer, but he soon realized this wasn’t his career path. He looked for challenges in the event organizer industry and then stumbled upon drones more by chance than anything else. It took him just two months to figure out what he wanted to do: “I started my own company. I had no customers, no ‘real’ plan and just a vague idea of what I wanted to do with drones”, Jonas testifies. “I figured I could perform industrial inspections with drones and off I went. The first year was kind of hard, because I had to build my customer base and I had to bootstrap as a waiter to keep paying my bills.”
interview Argus Vision

“I started my own company. I had no customers, no ‘real’ plan and just a vague idea of what I wanted to do with drones”

– Jonas Van de Winkel (Argus Vision)

When Jonas started out as a drone pilot, there was no legislation, no rules to fly by, just common sense. Needless to say, he was one of the first officially licensed pilots in Belgium, when regulations came around in 2016. “I realize now that I was pioneering this new industry. It was hard, working two jobs, but totally worth it. As I started my business, I looked around for help. Why do everything alone, when there’s so much opportunities for starting companies? I was assisted by Unizo, a lobby group and service provider for entrepreneurs. They showed me I could also focus on so-called ‘easy business’. Everyone already knew that drones are a way to make spectacular videos and images. So, that’s what I did. It enabled me to invest in a more sophisticated drone after just six months.”

Expansion and focus

After just a few years Jonas Van de Winkel is going places. “I started out with industrial inspections, but today I do a lot of mapping and surveying and I am also specialized in facade renovations. Drones are far more efficient to assist in this process than traditional imaging solutions.”
With this focus, Argus Vision has won the KBC Innovation Challenge. It helps the Belgian bank and insurance specialist to analyze buildings, offer better mortgages and scan solar panel installations to prevent them from failing outside of the warranty period, which is also a loan related issue.

Today, Argus Vision and Kopterman are two parts of one group. Van de Winkel: “In 2017, I realized we should focus on industrial applications of drones, but also on the more creative side of things. This is why I partnered with Kopterman. We now have two partners in the group and about a dozen freelancers working for us. Kopterman has a lot of positive references in Hollywood and is quite unique as a high-level brand. We focus on the skills we provide for a shoot: highly trained pilots and a skilled camera crew. Not much competition there, so far.”

It’s what you do after the drone is done

“If you look at the technology market, we’ve come to realize that the added value lies within postproduction on rendered data. And fixed-wing automatization. So, we try to focus our research and development efforts that way. Van de Winkel continues: As industrial applications go, we’ve had a fun challenge with ‘Bird Scaring’. We protect large car stocks and we prevent birds from nesting where they shouldn’t. These are very intensive, but also very rewarding projects.”

interview Argus Vision

“If you look at the technology market, we’ve come to realize that the added value lies within postproduction on rendered data.”

– Jonas Van de Winkel (Argus Vision)

“The greatest challenge we will face in the future is to deliver acquired data in a universal workable model. A point cloud is typically not enough for most customers. But I am sure that we will be able to meet this challenge head on. Another challenge is the growth we face in our creative department. Because we focus on high end productions, we are getting more and more requests, which is great. But we should be able to maintain the same standard of quality. We want to be an industry standard ourselves.”

What about tomorrow?

The commercial drone industry is still quite young. Industrial applications and creative applications are still both commonly found within most drone startups. According to Jonas Van de Winkel this will change over time: “In our company the two divisions will grow each in a different direction which is fine. In other companies, you will see that they will make a choice. Tech oriented companies will focus on automated drone solutions and evolve to be application developers and data analyzers. Creative oriented companies will have the need for skilled creative profiles, making it so that a pilot simply being a pilot is not going to be enough. Pilots will need to enhance their technical and creative skills, and lift them to a whole new level.”

interview Argus Vision

“As an entrepreneur I cannot stand by, passively waiting for things to go my way. Being a pioneer means making things happen.”

– Jonas Van de Winkel (Argus Vision)

“Of course, legislation may hinder that process a bit”, Van de Winkel says. “But I am confident that that it will adapt itself to the market situation. As an entrepreneur I cannot stand by, passively waiting for things to go my way. Being a pioneer means making things happen. Legally of course, but always looking for new opportunities and staying ahead of the curve.”

Van de Winkel concludes: “Overall I am very optimistic about the future of the drone industry and its many applications. Exciting times!”

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