This region has an abundance of drone startups. It’s also more optimistic about drones than the rest of the world.

One region of the world is proving to be an especial hotbed for drone startups. That’s the DACH region, which includes Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This German-speaking region has long placed a high emphasis on technological development and has been known for its culture of innovation (I mean, look no further than the region’s fancy cars, watches and chocolate). But it’s future tech too, as today the DACH region is home to more than an estimated 70,000 startups. Unsurprisingly, many of those 70,000 tech startups are part of the drone industry — and likewise many of the drone industry’s startups are concentrated in the DACH region.

Of all the drone companies operating in the DACH region, an estimated 52% of companies have 10 employees or fewer. Another 24% have between 11 and 50 employees, which means that a vast majority — 75% of all drone companies — have 50 employees or fewer.

Graphic courtesy of Drone Industry Insights

Meanwhile, only 8% of DACH drone companies have more than 500 employees.

That’s according to Drone Industry Insights based on information gathered for its annual 2023 Drone Industry Survey. (DII itself is based in Germany.) DII’s analysis was based on online survey responses from 1,113 drone industry participants across 85 countries, so keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a comprehensive drone market study but rather a glimpse into the DACH regional drone market. (You can download the full white paper from DII here).

DACH is more optimistic about drones than most other regions

Not only is the DACH region incredibly drone startup heavy, but it’s more optimistic about the state of the drone industry than most other regions.

DII tracks a sort of optimism score, and the DACH gave a 6.9, which is higher than the average worldwide score of just 6.6. And it’s also becoming more optimistic. In 2022, the DACH’s optimism score was just 6.0. Perhaps with projects like an FPV drone flight through Stuttgart’s Porsche Museum, it’s not hard to be optimistic.

Graphic courtesy of Drone Industry Insights

That said, there are still some things holding back drones, particularly in the DACH region. Participants in DII’s survey said regulation was a challenge, citing a lack of harmonization and slow approval processes. One respondent even referred to the region as having “strangulating regulation”.

That said, things will certainly get interesting for the region come Jan. 1, 2024, when the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s drone class identification label rules go into effect.

Graphic courtesy of Drone Industry Insights

Why the drone industry is going strong in the DACH region

The DACH region already has some highly prominent drone startups.

In the cargo space, standouts include Hamburg-based Airial Robotics, which builds powerful cargo drones, and was a semifinalist in the 2021 GENIUS NY business accelerator program. Perhaps more well known is Wingcopter, which builds eVTOL drones and has executed many real-world drone deliveries (and was even named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum).

Other drone makers in the region include SwissDrones, which is building unmanned helicopters.

In the software space comes names like open-source drone software platform Auterion, which is based in Switzerland, as well as o Pix4D, which is known for leveraging drones for photogrammetry.

One of the reasons for the success of the DACH drone industry is the strong balance between hardware, software, and services companies. Here is the breakdown of companies by type:

  • Drone Service Providers (30%).
  • Software Manufacturers (15%).
  • Hardware Manufacturers (14%).

With startups stereotypically comes elevated levels of energy and creativity, where new ideas are constantly being explored. Another reason for the DACH drone industry’s success is the strong sense of community among the companies. Roughly two-thirds of drone companies in the region are members of a drone association, which means that they are likely to be aware of — and able to capitalize on — collaboration opportunities. Examples include the German Aviation Association (BDL) and the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI). 

The region’s educational institutions have also stood out in their approach to researching drones, including Switzerland’s two big universities, ETH Zurich and EPFL. The government’s have been supportive of innovation, too.  For example, the German government in 2020 hosted a coronavirus hackathon, where €24 million in prize money was up for grabs to startups that could help tackle COVID-19 related issues.

Graphic courtesy of Drone Industry Insights

It doesn’t hurt that the region already has a strong economy with all three countries ranking highly in terms of real GDP; Germany ranks 5, Switzerland ranks 35 and Austria ranks 44. And, when considering real GDP per capita, all of them rank even higher — within the top 30; Germany ranks 26, Switzerland ranks 9 and Austria ranks 24, according to DII. 

And with that thriving startup scene, a strong balance between hardware, software, and services companies, and a sense of community, the DACH region is well-positioned to become a global leader in the drone industry (if it wasn’t already).

To learn more about drones in the DACH region (and to get other drone industry analytics), check out Drone Industry Insights here.

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