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From Student Project to Startup Company

UNLV engineering students launch their drone company with help from across campus.
Business & Community  |  May 19, 2014  |  By Brian Sodoma
UNLV students and Skyworks Aerial Systems founders Greg Friesmuth and Jinger Zeng show off their prototype in their lab. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)
Editor's Note: 

[Related story on UNLV's drone program: "Taking Flight"]

While Greg Friesmuth's drone was conceived in a UNLV engineering lab, his new company was incubated with help from across campus.

Friesmuth showcased his prototype unmanned aerial system design in the College of Engineering's 2013 senior design competition. The capstone project and competition are required for engineering students, who must design and build a prototype product, with an emphasis on its marketability. The event attracts private industry executives, government officials, and other dignitaries, including Andrew Hardin.

As director for the Lee Business School's Center for Entrepreneurship, Hardin keeps an eye out for faculty and student projects with strong commercialization potential. He also teaches an MBA course for entrepreneurs and used Friesmuth's drone as a case study. The MBA students developed a business plan and named the company Skyworks Aerial Systems.

Friesmuth, an undergraduate set to complete his studies in December, recruited Jinger Zeng, a mechanical engineering master's degree candidate and the project engineer of UNLV's award-winning Solar Decathlon house. As company founders, the duo then recruited several other students -- Rakitha Perera from electrical engineering, Jameson Lee from mechanical engineering, and Geoff Gardner from computer science -- to join the team.

With Zeng now leading the business development, Skyworks Aerial Systems took the top prize in the 2014 Dominic Anthony Marrocco Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition, earning nearly $85,000 in cash and in-kind business services. Skyworks also won first place the Innovation Challenge business plan competition, held in Chicago by the North American Professionals & Entrepreneurs Council. It competed against teams from Northwestern University, MIT, and Cornell, among others.

This summer, the team is focused on raising capital for the company, with a goal of $500,000 to $800,000.