Tell us about your background and why you started a business
I am originally from Mérida, Venezuela. I have lived in Venezuela, Panama and the United States. This allowed me to understand both the culture and society of each country, along with their educational, professional, technological and business opportunities in the field of drone technology.
What led me to start my company was the advanced knowledge I had developed in the field of drone technology combined with my interest in education and technology. I saw a great opportunity in the market because in the years 2015 to 2019, the training available in drone technologies was scarce and limited to only piloting courses. Although this motivated me to take an entrepreneurial initiative to start an e-drone training platform, it was challenging for me as a woman in a demographically male-dominated industry.
Being a woman, and an immigrant, coming from a technology entrepreneurship background from Latin America with limited resources was very challenging, however, perseverance, continuous learning, and "obsessing" with my project in an objective way allowed me to advance in the face of uncontrollable adversities.
I have been fortunate to be mentored and supported by a network of renowned women leaders and entrepreneurs in LatAm (Latin America) since 2020. These women have been part of initiatives such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Lab, WeXchange Women STEMpreneurs Competition and Mujer Emprendedora LAC. Their guidance and encouragement has been fundamental in my growth in this enterprise and I am grateful to have these support circles. They have inspired me. For example, this year I participated in the startup school Y Combinator. This opportunity taught me invaluable lessons from big investors and technology entrepreneurs worldwide.
Being a woman, an immigrant, coming from a technology entrepreneurship background from Latin America with limited resources was very challenging, however, perseverance, continuous learning, and "obsessing" with my project in an objective way allowed me to advance in the face of uncontrollable adversities.
- Leyre Escalante
Why did you choose to focus on the drone industry?
Since my childhood I have been a fan of science and technology, this was perhaps inculcated in me through my constant exposure to technology and science that my father used to carry out. He frequently gave me magazines like Nature, National Geographic and encyclopedia collections. My father brought home our first computer when I was 5 years old. He taught me how to assemble computers, their parts and functions and introduced me to programming languages, coding and algorithm designing.
During my bachelor’s degree and as a scientist at the University of The Andes, Venezuela, we used satellite images to study the earth's surface, its different processes, dynamics and terrestrial, natural, environmental, agroecological flows. These professional experience made me deeply familiar with digital photography, remote sensing, its processing and analysis.
I started Drone e-Learning along with a colleague in 2019 in Panama in response to the growing demands for training courses in drone technology. During this time drone technology was perceived as avant-garde, but we still garnered a lot of interest in our offerings.
In 2019, the courses began to be taught in a streaming format, and a minimum viable product of Drone e-Learning as www.droneelearning.com was developed. Then by January 2020 the first on-demand courses were launched on the market, and it received excellent reception. The first users were the students who previously used face-to-face courses, and they loved our online training alternative!
When the pandemic a huge uptick in the number of users and in the adoption of this on-demand course format. This year we started teaching courses in the metaverse, this immersive format adapts phenomenally to many of the contents of our courses and is very well adapted by users.
- Leyre Escalante
To date, there is no on-demand edtech platform that specializes in drone technology, even though there are many in-person drone piloting courses in the market and a few streaming options. Later, companies in the field sought to replicate our model as they began to provide online live training, which they later switched to courses on drone piloting in an on-demand format. We saw this as a good symptom that indicated that we were on the right track.
Our training approach is based on the applications of drone technology in different industries, on the use of data processing software and the generation of products that allow resource savings, improved efficiency and the maximization of results for different product and marketing sectors, research, and data analysis.
My mission is to expand Drone e-Learning throughout the Hispanic market and respond to all talent training needs in sectors such as construction, logistics and agriculture, for B2C/B2B, and to respond to the rising demand for drone technology professionals in the Hispanic world. Additionally, I want to extend help in the creation and development of drone technology solutions for the US and LatAm.
How do you promote diversity in the drone industry?
According to the Women in Science report of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 30% of researchers and scientists in the world are women, and in countries like Mexico, only 3 out of 10 STEM professionals are women, while, according to the World Bank, in Latin America less than 10% of people who graduate from STEM careers are women. Specifically in the drone technology industry, which covers a large and diverse area of applications, the statistics of participation of women in the world are still unknown.
According to US drone manufacturer Skydio, approximately 5% of Skydio 2 drones were purchased by women, while 95% were purchased by men, according to user data released in March 2021 by the company. In the United States as a whole, where about 6.7% of the 160,302 remote pilots registered by the FAA were women (according to data from the Center Aeronautics of the Federal Aviation Administration). Skydio released another interesting fact on Facebook and Instagram, where you can identify yourself by gender, that less than 9% of its followers were women.
In the case of Drone e-Learning, for the year 2019 (the date on which the online training courses were launched), only 3% of the students were women. This percentage was maintained over time (and in the face-to-face courses, the participation for this same year was less than 5%). On Facebook and Instagram, Drone e-Learning had 6% female followers.
Starting 2020, we began to create different strategies to increase the participation of women, among them included redesigning the content of our social networks. These incorporated images of women in most of our designs and maintained an inclusive language. To date, most companies that offered drone technology services created totally masculine content, which directly associated drone technology with the male gender.
We began to make continuous calls, in which we awarded scholarships to 1 woman, for every 5 men who acquired a course, this was based on evaluating their profiles, motivations and needs to learn about drone technology. The majority of the beneficiaries were STEM students who they did not have access to this type of training in their study curriculum, and recently graduated professionals from university.
We also developed alliances with NGOs and Universities. One alliance is with the Venezuelan Society of Ecology, where female students and professionals from various cities in Venezuela received scholarship. Thanks to the knowledge acquired they undertook research projects and started a new company This showed us the impact of supporting LatAm women through education. We also created the Women in Drone Technology initiative, through which we promoted and supported access to education and entrepreneurship in drone technology for Hispanic women.
At present, in 2022, the percentage of female students of Drone e-Learning is 27%, and the percentage of female followers in social networks such as Facebook and Instagram is 28.30% and 16.5% respectively. Although the percentage of female participation is currently high and improving from past years history, we continue to work on strategies that allow the participation of women to continue growing.
- Leyre Escalante
Another strategy was to create the Drone e-Learning Podcast in early 2022, my plan as host is to have equal participation between male and female guests. You can find the podcast on Spotify and Anchor, and on the first episode with a female guest, we had an audience spread across 13 countries, including the US, and according to Spotify stats, 50% of our listeners are men and 50% are women.
Giving visibility to the research, entrepreneurship and professional work of women in the various areas of the drone industry is essential to naturalize their participation, especially for the ones who are interested in this technology but are facing different challenges in accessing them such as cultural and economic amongst others.
If you had one piece of advice for other women looking to get into the drone field, what would it be?
All women leaders in the drone industry support eachother. The networks and communities of women in this field are incredible. Furthermore, it is an excellent time because women have the support of initiatives of large companies, international organizations and multilateral banks to join STEM and drone technology courses. A great example of this is DroneDeploy, a company that promotes dialogue, visibility and support of women who are part of drone technology.
Impostor syndrome can be a common issue for women and anyone stepping into a new skill. I recommend that we ignore these voices and dare to go beyond our fears by getting out of our comfort zones and acquiring knowledge in this field. Some recommended areas I would like to suggest would be in data collection with drones (piloting), drone data processing (develop skills in different software), and in data analysis. Hardware and software development skills will bring countless labor and business opportunities in the near term, as it is a rapidly growing sector that demands human talent.
How have you seen and helped drone use spread in Latin America?
The growth of the industry in LatAm began in 2015, and currently has had a burgeoning growth. A large number of new companies are providing drone technology services, the growth of academically offered degrees, and the growth in the number of people who purchase drones (as equipment prices are becoming more accessible), and the number of people who obtain Pilot Licenses in the different LatAm countries have all helped this.
It is my personal goal that LatAm gets access to quality and specialized education in the field of drone technology and its software applied in different industries. Education can help bridge the gaps in technology that exist in LatAm and provide development and prosperity to countries. One of my priorities is to help Drone e-Learning in providing a wide and diverse range of training in drone technology. Our offer goes far beyond drone piloting, and our focus is the development of training across many areas.
It is important to note that DroneDeploy is one of our preferred software when it comes to teaching our students, due to its versatility in the application of its tools to generate useful products for different industries, and its overlaps with drone technology.