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Startup Cargonaught off to France after winning Airbus BizLab AEROmobility pitch

Cape Town-based airship startup Cargonaught has won the Airbus BizLab AEROmobility pitching competition.

The startup beat six other startups to clinch an all expenses paid trip to France and Germany, where the company will meet experts from Airbus and get technical support for three-months thereafter.

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The other finalists to pitch at the event held at the Bandwitdth Barn in Cape Town include: space optics startup Simera Technology Group, drone startup Tai Corporation, Think Big Solutions, Hi-Fly Marketing, space tech startup New Space Systems and data analytics startup Aerobotics.

Global aerospace accelerator Airbus BizLab held the challenge in collaboration with Silicon Cape. Judges at the event included representatives from Airbus, National Aerospace Research, Technology Innovation Agency and South African Venture Capital Association (Savca).

Airbus Bizlab head Bruno Gutierres told Ventureburn that the aim of the challenge is to promote innovation and give startups the opportunity to access markets. He said that the accelerator has a department working on airship activities that would assist Cargonaught.

Cargonaught aims to develop autonomous airships capable of handling heavy payloads

Cargonaught aims to merge drone and airship technology to develop autonomous airships capable of handling heavy payloads. The startup was founded by Spencer Horne, a Harvard University graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Horne told Ventureburn that the idea for his startup first came about while he was studying at university. About a year ago he pivoted the startup after he came to understand more about drones and how affordable navigation technology on drones has become.

“That’s when I realised that many of the cargo applications of airships could actually be handled by a drone, making them sufficiently cheap,” he said.

Earlier this year in March, Cargonaught spent a week in Munich, Germany at the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation accelerator as part of Singularity U’s Global Impact Challenge.

Read more: Climate changers: these are the 5 Singularity U Global Impact Challenge finalists

Horne said the main challenges the startup has faced as a tech startup dealing with hardware have been around monetising the company and getting support for research and development and prototyping. “Hardware is notoriously difficult to monetise,” he added.

He also bemoaned the lack of support for startups in the South African tech ecosystem.

“Universities do not let you use their stuff unless you are a university student. They have millions of rands worth of equipment and no one knows about it, they just aren’t accessible. In terms of prototyping there isn’t an easy avenue to get that done,” he said.

The startup has yet to raise any funding, and Horne and his team has sought rather to enter an accelerator or incubator to raise funding there to carry out research and development and build a prototype.

Horne said he is looking to build connections and partnerships in his week in France. He said he would take the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the experts he would meet and to understand challenges and business models.

Featured image: Cargonaught founder Spencer Horne pitching at the Airbus BizLab AEROmobility pitching competition in Cape Town

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