Autonomous airship logistics startup Cloudline took top honours last night at the inaugural Fast Company SA Most Innovative Companies Awards held in Cape Town.
But three years after the startup was founded it has yet to get approval from South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to begin a pilot project.
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Cloudline was founded in 2017 by Spencer Horne (pictured above, middle with colleagues Burger Becker and Daniel Robinson).
The startup wants to use autonomous airships to transport goods. The idea is that the airships will be able to do such things as transport medical supplies to a rural village just as easily as it could to someone stranded in snowfall on a mountain top in Switzerland.
Cloudline won the inaugural Fast Company SA Most Innovative Companies Awards, but its airships have not yet been approved by the CAA
However, the startup has yet to commence commercial operation and is still in the tech development phase, with the aim of getting commercial licensing and running a pilot project sometime soon.
In April last year the startup was selected as one of eight finalists to compete in the finals of Season 3 of the Santam Safety Ideas Challenge (see here). During the same month, Horne arrived in Israel to take part in the MassChallenge Israel 2019 accelerator cohort in Jerusalem (see this story).
At the time Horne said he expected the startup to begin its pilot sometime in 2019. However this has not yet transpired.
Horne told Ventureburn in a call today that the startup had not yet received approval from South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
He said the startup wasn’t yet at the point of meeting approval from the CAA as more testing needs to take place.
Because of the long delay in getting approval, he said the startup is now considering getting permission to test the airships in another African country first, just to get up and going.
Horne said while the startup did not secure any equity funding through the MassChallenge Israel accelerator, where there was a possibility to do so, he pointed out that the startup had recently raised investment from angel investors.
He said the investment round from angel investors had not yet closed and that the startup is still busy raising more money through Simple agreement for future equity (SAFE) agreement notes.
The startup also received a grant from Unicef’s Venture Fund in December last year, he said.
While he declined to reveal how much equity investment the startup had so far raised from investors, and the size of the Unicef grant, Unicef notes on a webpage on its site that its Innovation Fund invests up to $100 000 in those companies it assists.
‘Cloudline stood out’
Despite this, in a statement today, Fast Company’s editor-in-chief, Wesley Diphoko said Cloudline stood out “by a mile” with their solution to “advance and uplift society, especially addressing the needs of the bottom billion”.
“It was an easy decision for our judging panel to unanimously select them as this year’s winners,” he added.
The top five winners of the night were:
- Cloudline (Overall winner)
- 3×4 Genetics
- Identity ID
- Iyeza Health
- Kuba Technologies
Read more: Busy month for SA startup Cloudline as founder lands in Israel for accelerator programme
Read more: Here are the eight finalists of the Season 3 of the Santam Safety Ideas Challenge
Read more: Startup Cargonaught off to France after winning Airbus BizLab AEROmobility pitch
Editor’s note (6 March 2020): In a subsequent call to Ventureburn, Cloudline founder Spencer Horne put the delay in getting CAA approval down to his startup needing to still do more testing and development, and not to any holdup by the CAA itself.
Horne also clarified that the startup, through its backing from Unicef, is looking to carry out further testing in another African country, where it is easier to do such testing than in South Africa — stressing this was for testing and not certification of the aircraft itself.
For this reason we have amended the story accordingly. We also included that Cloudline is in the process of raising investment, having received a grant of an undisclosed amount from Unicef in December.
Featured image (left to right): Cloudline’s Burger Becker, the startup’s founder Spencer Horne and colleague Daniel Robinson (Supplied)