Photo: Manal Habib and co-founder Scott Parker
In aviation, the entry barrier is high. You can’t start a business quickly where deep tech is concerned. To convince anybody to invest in you, you need to sell them on the vision and the background of your team. Those are two very, very important parts. Your vision needs to show them you are going for something big, something that has never been done before. Your background needs to be strong. You need to demonstrate your design.
I am an MIT and Stanford engineer, entrepreneur and pilot who previously led flight controls at drone delivery company Zipline. My partner, Scott Parker, is an entrepreneur who was a senior mechanical engineer at Zipline. We designed and built and flew autonomously the MightyFly MF-100, a hybrid-electric, vertical take-off and landing, autonomous aircraft, which is the size of a mid-car, has a cargo capacity of 100 lbs, max speed of 150 mph, and range of 600 miles. Once it is up in the sky, MF-100 has a hybrid engine that transitions into fixed-wing flights. Our aircrafts can revolutionize the logistics field, a gigantic industry (ranging from $8 trillion to $12 trillion), which has remained stagnant for eons as it is dependent on vans and trucks, slow and costly means of delivery. We launched our startup, MightyFly, in October 2019. It took us just two months to raise $5.1 million in seed funding.
It took us just two months to raise $5.1 million in seed funding.
I was born in Tangier, Morocco. Since I was five, I remember myself looking at the sky. Something about the sky fascinated me, seeing the birds flying made me feel free. As I grew up, I saw aerospace technology as a way to improve our lives. There was neither an aerospace engineering degree nor an aviation culture around me though. That did not stop me. I set out to figure out how to meet and achieve my vision. One thing that I like to do is solve problems. I see problems as puzzles. So, I got into an exchange student program in high school, which landed me in the US. After I took a course at George Washington University, I went back to Morocco, where I prepared my application for MIT, my dream school. When I got a full scholarship to MIT, I took a giant leap in the way I lived. I received my B.S. in aerospace engineering from MIT, and did a graduate professional program in aerospace engineering at Stanford.
Initially, I went into working on software development because I saw that autonomy is a big part of our future. Soon, I started working in supply, with small drones. It is there I realized we needed way bigger drones to really transform our lives. Small drones could only carry one package. I pieced together the puzzle in my head. The market needed autonomous aircrafts that can carry multiple packages.
Visualize a spiral going up. You can't just say “I need this much money, and I'm going to get it tomorrow”. You have to think of your startup as a spiral. You have to take a little bit of money and show value. That takes you one step higher in the spiral loop. We have built and flown autonomously a full-scale aircraft that can carry 100 lbs of cargo and in the future will carry 500 lbs. Large companies spend big money to build that. What made it possible for us was our qualifications. We knew how to build it, and just needed a little bit of funding to get moving.
“I come to the sector uniquely qualified, do you want to invest in me?”
Contributors to this round of funding include 500 Startups, At One Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Graph Ventures, and Halogen Ventures. We will use this funding to expand hiring, scale up our fleet, and build the infrastructure required to support a global network of hubs. As I look into the future, I see a challenging path, full of excitement, leading to a bright and better future. I know I might encounter biases of the unconscious kind that are hard to quantify because I am a female. I see the problem again as solving a puzzle. The first step into handling it is your belief system. Then charging full into making your goals happen. My goal is to revolutionize the future of logistics via large autonomous cargo aircraft."
Whether it's an engineering problem or a fundraising or a bias problem, don't even think in terms of a problem, but in terms of a puzzle. You have to make that puzzle simpler. How do you do that? You break down every problem into smaller pieces, and work it out piece by piece, until you climb up the ladder. This is how I am building my 2 seater airplane in my garage, and how I am leading MightyFly".
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