Drones and honeybees don’t seem to have much in common — beyond the fact that both fly.
However, startup GhostWave Inc. has projects centered around both.
Founder and CEO Dean Zody tells investors or people who are interested there’s a method behind it all.
“We are a radar company,” Zody explains. “So, although it sounds like we’re going to different markets and shotgunning out all ideas, it boils down to: This is the radar.”
GhostWave radars employ a patented, pseudo-random radio frequency generator, which reduces the likelihood of a nearby radar utilizing that exact signal at the same time.
The technology also could apply to radar in adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, measuring a bullet’s velocity leaving a gun muzzle and more.
Smart Business Dealmakers spoke with Zody about his company, which grew out of research at at The Ohio State University, and its progress toward scale and commercialization.
As a host committee member, GhostWave’s Dean Zody has helped shape the upcoming Smart Business Dealmakers Conference (formerly ASPIRE), which takes place on Sept. 25 at the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Save $100 on registration with the code DEAL100.
Slow and steady
GhostWave is Zody’s first foray into startups, an experience he has found exciting.
“There’s a lot of variety going on,” he says. “You’re making an impact.”
While the product development hasn’t always moved as quickly as he would like, Zody is having fun and learning along the way. One of his biggest takeaways so far is it would have been nice to have a co-founder — someone to provide another set of eyes on things and help divide the work, technical versus marketing and business.
His journey began a little over three years ago when Zody’s employer, Alcatel-Lucent S.A., was bought by Nokia. His job security didn’t look good, so he took the opportunity to leave.
At a Rev1 Ventures volunteer appreciation lunch he had learned about some Ohio State radar patents. The technology fit with his telecommunications and product engineering background.
Zody worked with Rev1 to set up the right legal structures to have Ohio State license the patents to him, while also applying for and receiving a grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund to build a minimum viable product.
Zody chose a slower, less risky development route for those first two years.
“The TVSF grant from Ohio Development Services Agency was for $100,000,” he says. “We used that with Ohio State Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence to build our first radar. We could have done that a lot faster with Battelle, but their price is $300,000.
“When you’re dealing with minimal investment or resources, and you don’t want to drain your 401(k) or start tapping into that, things go slower.”
Adapt and pivot
In 2018, GhostWave got its big break, a $2.5 million development contract from the Ohio Federal Research Network (OFRN), which in turn helped generate seed funding from Rev1 and Flashstarts.
GhostWave’s break came after it pivoted. Rather than trying to break into the automotive industry, the startup shifted to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Our first market approach was the auto industry in these applications,” Zody says. “We’ve since learned that is a long, difficult market to enter, and it’s going to be, I think, better for GhostWave if we can demonstrate this drone application to the auto industry.”
GhostWave put together the proposal for the OFRN project, which includes Ohio State, Ohio University, Lockheed Martin and other small companies. The idea is to combine GhostWave radars with the cameras on UAVs into one sensor.
“The radar that we’re going to put on the drone is working,” he says. “We’re still doing some software development on it, and we have our first test flight in September.”
Once GhostWave and its partners can demonstrate the sensor fusion capability, it will be able to focus on scaling and commercialization.
“The goal would be if you make drones with your own company, I want to be your detect-and-avoid supplier,” Zody says.
The startup also is working on a project for the Department of Agriculture, where interns use radar to monitor the health of honeybee hives in Cleveland and Central Ohio. And Zody hopes to win more grant applications in the future that show other feasible applications for GhostWave radar.