By Natalie Crofts
HOLLADAY — Out of thousands of applicants, a Utah teenager with his own drone company recently won a spot in the 2015 class of Thiel Fellows.
Seventeen-year-old George Matus Jr. was one of 20 people selected for the fellowship, which was started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to encourage college-aged people to skip college and focus on becoming entrepreneurs. The two-year fellowship provides $100,000 in funding and access to a network of mentors.
Matus started his company, iDrone, while still attending grade school. He first encountered the Thiel Foundation while presenting his drone technology at Stanford University at the beginning of 2015. As he learned more about the program, he said he could tell it would be a great opportunity to grow iDrone.
KSL.com had the chance to chat with Matus about his goals and plans for the future. A portion of the email conversation is included below:
What sparked your interest in drones?
“It happened really early on! I always looked to the skies and wondered what it would be like to actually fly. Every kid wants to be Superman, I was no different. My parents moved to a home with a big field behind it and since the age of 6 (over 11 years now), I’ve been flying remote control planes, helicopters and other unmanned aerial systems in this area. Things started happening quickly after that! I built my first flybarless helicopter at age 11, became a drone test pilot for a large company at age 12, won a global race competition out of 270 drone pilots at age 16, and just recently presented my drone technology at USC and Stanford.”
What are your goals for iDrone?
“Quick answer: I’m an Apple and Tesla super-fan and would like to see iDrone follow a similar path. I believe there are many similarities between today’s drones and the years leading up to the introduction of smartphones and other game changing technologies. The drone space is still very young and we’ll see a lot of consolidation with a few market leaders rising from the dust. They will be the ones with truly innovative products that pave the way for the future and appeal to a huge range of customers.
“iDrone is developing both software and hardware based solutions with a focus on quality, performance, design, user experience, and the potential to even become a universal platform. I’m prepared for many pivots along the way, but at the end of the day, I’d like our drones to have a positive impact on our lives and benefit commerce in ways we can’t yet imagine. The next 3-5 years and beyond will be amazing as this technology evolves. I’d like iDrone to play a key role in this progress.”
What are your plans for the coming months?
“Right now I’m looking to raise additional capital to rapidly accelerate the company’s growth. We’re working day and most of night getting ready to launch a really innovative multi-functional drone that gives customers a truly incredible experience. It suits the beginner wanting to get started, the extreme hobbyist looking to push the limits, and even those with commercial applications. I can’t wait to show and talk more about it when we’re closer to release! But I can say that being CEO of a company involved in one of the fastest growing markets is exciting and an amazing learning experience.
“Headquartered in my basement here in Salt Lake City (and expanding to offices in San Francisco and San Diego), I spend my days working with some of the most talented patent attorneys, engineers, software developers, manufacturers, distributors, designers, and many more fantastic people involved in the process. I’m also excited to be part of the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance, working closely with the Governor’s Office to help integrate drone initiatives into the state!”
What else do you think people should know about you and your work?
“Every successful venture is always surrounded by talented, passionate people. It’s impossible to do it all alone … I want to give a huge thanks to my family and The Waterford School for their total support and all others for believing in me.”
“On a personal note, I think it’s time to get my driver’s license since I’m already 17 — but why drive when you can fly?”