Swoop Aero soon to take flight in Australia

23 June 2020

Swoop Aero has a name that invokes a sense of daring, purpose and speed that can aptly be applied to CEO Eric Peck’s healthcare logistics start-up. Within months of its 3D printed drones first taking flight in 2017, Swoop began operating emergency commercial relief deliveries in Vanuatu in the wake of tropical cyclone Oma. Today, it operates on a much larger basis in COVID-stricken Africa. It is making dozens of flights each day taking scarce medical supplies to remote areas of the Malawi, with operations in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique as well. Soon, it aims to be working in Australia.

Start-ups globally are benefitting by servicing emergency needs in the wake of COVID. Peck says while the pandemic forced Swoop to bring its Australian staff home from Africa, local teams have taken over. “It just worked. It’s the baby we built, and we built it to do that. They have tripled the number of aircraft we have there and we are preparing to ramp up significantly to do COVID support.” Swoop has also doubled its network on the ground, with volumes up by about 300 per cent. It has plans to double it again.

Its operations in Malawi are run from regional hospitals. Village medical centres radio or text message their supply orders in every day, and they are promptly sent by drone. Patients’ samples taken in the villages can then be flown back to the hospitals for analysis. It’s all about logistics and supply chain management. Peck said his team was also helping build the communications infrastructure so villagers can talk to the health authorities. This is quickly overcoming apprehension about drone services. “In Africa, they see a lot of ideas come and go. But they feel really valued when you talk to them, implement a solution and they see it stay.”

Swoop plans to move to a national level of service in the African countries where they currently operate. Its five-year goal is to cover 100 million people. “At the moment, we are measuring about one or two (million). Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia are all on the horizon. They are our next steps.”

Peck expects this rapid growth will be aided by recognition Swoop is receiving now in Africa. “In the aviation industry, it’s all about brand and this gives us the opportunity to build brand. We are trusted by the biggest names in global healthcare – Gates, UNICEF, the UN, USAID, UK Aid. These people trust us to deliver for them. That’s why a private health care company or government in Australia can now trust us to do the same thing.”

Swoop outlined its recent successes at the Australian Investment Council’s 2020 VC Investment Forum. It is backed by a handful of VCs – Tempus Partners, Right Click Capital, Artesian and Blackbird. “We identified really early on that venture capital was the obvious route to take to grow this business. There is a fair bit of upfront investment in terms of technology development, and also because of the competitiveness in the market. What we do is quite complicated, so taking on VC partners made us distil our story. We raised last year after working with Tempus to understand the business. When VC firms back you, and partners of the firms are on your board, then they are willing to help grow the business − not only through their advice, but also using their connections to help us overcome challenges.”

The top challenge that Peck says he confronts is finding top talent willing to step away from reasonable, straight-forward jobs in a place like Telstra or a big four law firm. Compared with Silicon Valley, where it was normal to make such a jump, he said people in Australia leave university and want to get a job that would give them ”the gold watch” at retirement. “One thing it would be great to see change, is for the entrepreneurial mindset to be spread more broadly around Australia. When people get onboard a start-up they actually love it.”