Anyone who’s ever missed an Amazon delivery will be delighted by the prospect of drones dropping packages on to customers’ rooftops, but the technology also has drawbacks, as the travellers who were stranded at Gatwick airport in December 2018 became all too aware.
Drone sightings above the runway caused three days of disruption, affecting around 140,000 passengers at an estimated cost of £50m – and in September 2019, members of Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion, were arrested over their plans to fly drones above the world’s second busiest airport in a protest against climate change.
So, as drones become increasingly popular – a PwC report published in 2018 estimates that they could contribute to a £42bn increase in the UK’s GDP by 2030 – what can be done to prevent these pesky blighters from being misused?
Step forward Blighter, a company that provides radars, counter-drone solutions and integration software to clients including the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense. The Saffron Walden-based firm, which also supplies the South Korean government with products that are used to control the country’s border with North Korea, has secured a growth capital loan from BOOST&Co after adapting its sophisticated equipment for use in the commercial world.
Preventing malicious use of drones
“Drones are great for surveillance, aerial photography and searching for missing people, but they can be dangerous in the wrong hands,” says BOOST&Co’s London-based principal Kim Martin, who worked on the deal. “Blighter has developed an excellent reputation and is extremely well-placed to supply a neat solution to what’s happening right now.”
The company is one of the few specialist providers that can detect consumer drones with the accuracy required by businesses such as airports, nuclear power stations and oil- and gas-processing plants, paving the way to a wider client base. Blighter’s range of radars enables the company to supply products to commercial clients as well as providing higher-level technology for military-grade equivalents; its prices constitute “a realistic figure” for many corporate firms, Martin says, in light of the potential cost of disruption and the danger to life.
The business is well-placed to capitalise on this opportunity, given its reputation, profitability and track record of working with prestigious clients, such as the UK’s Ministry of Defence. “Blighter has been through rigorous due diligence and testing processes; when working with the US government, these can take two years. This gave us confidence in the quality of its products and service,” Martin says.
She was also impressed by the firm’s management team, including its new chief executive, Angus Hone, and chief financial officer, Tracy Sambrook. “To go through the funding process as smoothly as we did is testament to them. The team is really professional – one of the best I’ve seen,” Martin says. “They have a strategic plan to maximise their opportunities, increase their routes to market, make the most of their sales team and reinforce their brand. The time is right for them to grow.”
Shining example of UK tech success
Some of the funding will be used to improve Blighter’s supply chain, enabling the company to shorten the lead times for its products by buying more modules with long lead-times, to hold in stock. The business carries out its manufacturing and assembly in the UK, and has the capability to localise the final assembly of products where markets require. “Blighter is a really good example of the UK being at the forefront of developments in engineering design and technology,” Martin says.
Tracy Sambrook says: “Expanding our commercial client base is a key step in the next stage of Blighter’s development, and when we began to look for a lender to support these aims, BOOST&Co stood out. Kim quickly got to grips with our business and the sector, and her strong understanding of our strategy enabled her to tailor a growth capital loan to our needs. Working together was a very positive experience, and the funding process was smooth and swift.”
Due diligence on the deal was carried out by WK Corporate Finance. “We are delighted to have supported Kim and BOOST&Co with this investment. Blighter is an expert in its field and the company’s experienced team has a detailed, ambitious strategy for growth,” says Daniel Jonas, associate director in WKCF’s London office. “I am sure that this partnership will be very successful, and I look forward to hearing more about Blighter’s continued expansion.”
Travellers passing through the UK’s major airports on autumn getaways may remain nervous about reaching their destinations on time, should further environmental protests go ahead – but when it comes to minimising the effects of any disruption caused by drones, they can be confident that Blighter is on their side.