Gallaudet Alumni pair up to start up drone business venture
Hector Brual, ’88, and Anthony Mowl, ’06, of Austin, Tex., have teamed together to enter the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry, forming a start-up company, Aerial Productions, and expectations are on the rise after the pair won a coveted drone pitch competition at theInternational Drone Expo (IDE) in Los Angeles on December 11, 2015.
More than 80 exhibitors and 6,000 guests from all over the world attended the expo, the largest UAV event ever held. The IDE Drone Pitch Competition, meant to encourage entrepreneurship, small business growth, and innovation in the UAV field, was judged by a panel of representatives from venture capital firms funding emerging companies in the UAV market, including Qualcomm Ventures, Lux Capital, AECOM, and Booz Allen. Aerial Productions was awarded entry into LightSpeed Accelerator, a 12-week program which Mowl reported is worth more than any financial investment. This program, which began January 30, allows Mowl and Brual to work with industry experts to strengthen their business model by identifying target markets and solidifying a plan to raise capital. The accelerator will conclude with an opportunity for them to connect with potential investors.
“The goal of the program will be to discover and validate our business model, and hopefully obtain some funding to build out the company,” said Mowl.
Brual and Mowl expect a significant rise in the UAV industry. They launched Aerial Productions in August 2015 with plans to offer a range of drone services and to provide a gateway into the industry for the deaf community. They envision a future where drones will be used in various professional sectors.
“All police officers and first responders are going to be trained to fly drones so they can put an extra set of eyes in the air during dangerous situations,” Brual said. “Roof inspectors, surveyors and architects are going to use drones to develop fast and comprehensive 3D mapping. Farmers are going to monitor their crops from the air, and aerial video and photography will be much more accessible in a wide variety of industries.”
Brual, a native of the Philippines, came to the United States with his family in 1971 to have access to a better education. After attending a public school, he enrolled and graduated from the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. He then attended Gallaudet, earning a B.A. in government, followed by a master’s degree in education from Lamar University.
After a stint teaching at the Texas School for the Deaf, Brual shifted to the telecommunications relay services (TRS) career field. For 20 years, Brual moved throughout this industry, overseeing operations, logistics, administration, and marketing.
About a decade ago, Brual began flying single-engine aircrafts, thus cementing his passion for aviation. His love for photography, fueled by undergraduate courses at Gallaudet, merged with an interest for flight.
Brual launched his first photography business in 2013, using a 60-foot mast to capture bird’s eye shots. When the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) initiated the Section 333 exemption program, opening up opportunities to use UAV’s for commercial purposes, Brual jumped at the opportunity and submitted the required paperwork.
Just like that, Aerial Productions had taken flight.
Mowl teamed up with him soon after. “The [UAV] technology has finally reached a critical mass and tipping point, and we are on the forefront of a major explosion in drone applications,” Mowl said.
An alumnus of the Indiana School for the Deaf, Mowl graduated from Gallaudet in 2006 with a B.A. in English. Like Brual, he too made his way to the TRS field, leading product launches for a company that built videophone software and hardware. Mowl then moved on to public relations, analyzing small business technology and marketing tools for a host of publications and agencies.
This led to a position with Communication Services for the Deaf (CSD), an international nonprofit committed to advancing the quality of life for people who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard-of-hearing. At CSD, Mowl led its national marketing strategy and creative services team, and was involved in the creation of Vineya, the nation’s first marketplace for certified sign language interpreters.
In developing a promotional video for Vineya, Mowl and his team found themselves circling a lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard in a rented plane to get the proper shot. “That was a very difficult experience,” remembered Mowl, “not to mention expensive.” A long-time drone enthusiast, Mowl understood the advantage of using drones to capture unique shots such as this one.
Mowl left CSD in order to pursue self-business opportunities. This led to a conversation with Brual. Both had crossed paths numerous times over the years as TRS colleagues and through mutual friends. When Brual and Mowl ended up in Austin, they connected.
“Hector was thinking about starting a real estate aerial photography company. We got together and talked about our vision for what sort of company and services we could provide,” said Mowl. “I wanted to do more than real estate photography. I think we saw the same opportunity to expand and offer a wider range of services.”
“I thought it was the perfect combination of skills,” Brual said. “The rest is history.”
Aerial Productions hopes to offer a myriad of services, including commercial drone photography and filming, pilot training, and drone repairs. Regardless of what is offered, Mowl emphasized that the startup has this priority. “Our company is first and foremost a social enterprise committed to creating jobs and opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing community.”
“Supporting what is known as the deaf ecosystem is crucial,” explained Brual. “With all the attention brought to deaf people thanks to media exposure and an exponential growth in the number of deaf-owned businesses, it is imperative that Aerial Productions invests in deaf individuals just as much as the community has invested in us.”
Brual and Mowl credit Gallaudet for much of their success. “Although I majored in something not directly related to my current career, the experiences I gained while at Gallaudet were unparalleled,” said Brual. He noted that the barrier-free environment at the University provided a long-standing network that continues to this day. “It all came together to create unique career opportunities which has led me to Aerial Productions.”
Mowl likewise values his Gallaudet education. “Gallaudet played an important role in the development of myself as a person during my most formative years,” he said. While having the option of attending larger colleges, Mowl embraced Gallaudet’s intimate nature, giving him opportunities such as writing for the Buff and Blue, completing two internships, and joining a fraternity. And like Brual, he is not troubled by a degree that does not translate to his current venture. “Although my major in English does not directly tie into what I’m doing now, receiving a liberal arts education made me a more well-rounded person, and I believe that I have many skills today because of that experience.”
Brual and Mowl hope to collaborate with colleges as Aerial Productions takes shape. “Receiving an education and exposure to STEM careers is so much more important than ever, and I’d love to inspire new career paths in the unmanned aerial systems field,” said Mowl.
Brual envisions partnering with Gallaudet by offering student internships and jobs for graduates with the company, which might include teaching, engineering, and photography and video work. “It would be great to collaborate with Gallaudet University, especially with all Gallaudet has given me.”
Click here to read more about Aerial Productions.
By Nate Ramsier
Published February 23, 2016