Cote d’Ivoire Drone’s Marouane Jebbar on Africa’s Aerospace Sector

Originally published on the MEST Africa Blog.

On November 8, 2018, MEST Africa and Innocircle organized an Airbus Bizlab Aerospace Challenge Meetup in Abidjan to spotlight the budding aerospace industry in Francophone Africa, answer questions about launching a startup in the space, and introduce the Africa4Future initiative by Airbus to aspiring entrepreneurs.

We were lucky to have Marouane Jebbar, Founder & CEO of Cote d’Ivoire Drone, and Hady Barry of Zipline, join us to share their expertise and experience in the sector. After the session, we caught up with Jebbar to hear his thoughts. Enjoy the excerpt below!

MEST Head of Global Operations, Hady Bary of Zipline and Marouane Jebbar of Cote d’Ivoire Drone (l-r)

Tell us about your company and your experience in the African aerospace industry.

We founded the company in October 2017 and have grown to an 8-employee team in about a year. We cater to a wide spectrum of needs concerning drones. We make, mount, and execute various missions ranging from aerial photography, image processing, agriculture, delivery, data processing and analytics, construction, mining, energy-fixing drones, and training drones. 

It has been a thoroughly interesting experience, as we were pioneers in the space in Cote d’Ivoire. We started with a Facebook page called Abidjan Drone Labs which we ran for over two years before incorporating as Cote d’Ivoire Drone. Drones and aerospace are really exciting with lots of room for innovation, creativity, disruption and collaboration.

What are some of your personal challenges running a startup in this space?

Some of my challenges include running Cote d’Ivoire Drone as a bootstrapped company since day one. Funding for the company has come from my savings and customer revenue since the beginning. I am open to raising funds but very careful to make sure it is with the right kind of investor who understands what we do specifically or the aerospace industry generally.

My major challenge, however, isn’t funding. It is the technical skills gap. It has been a pain finding and hiring skilled talent. This is because aerospace is a new domain all over the world.

We have to train our employees, as they usually come with minimal training, and this takes no less than three months for each person in a technical role.

Cote d’Ivoire Drone Founder and CEO, Marouane Jebbar

Which industries in Africa are ready for innovation from aerospace technology?

A whole lot of industries! It would be a more interesting question to ask which aren’t. My top three picks, however, are mining, mounting drones and data processing.

What are important qualities and resources for an idea-stage startup to have when entering the aerospace industry?

There are many qualities I consider important for young startups to have if they hope to tackle this industry head-on. Some are:

  • Patience and passion are key for working in the aerospace industry in Africa, as challenges can get really tough and you will be tempted to give up.
  • Technical skills are also very important. To navigate the evolving space, you either have to have technical skills yourself or partner/hire someone who does.
  • It is important that you benchmark internet speeds for the region you intend to work in. You need very fast internet. It is so important and is actually one of my challenges in Cote d’Ivoire.
  • Management skills must be top notch as it’s not only about the product but also about managing a team with diverse talents, having a strategic vision, managing finances efficiently and other tasks that make or break the company.
  • Marketing and communications should also be deliberate, clean and internationally appealing. You need to be able to communicate your value clearly and in English and French!

Call for applications for the Airbus Bizlab Aerospace Challenge are now closed and over 300 African startups who applied are in review. The Africa4Future Bizlab Accelerator kicks off in January 2019. Stay up to date with the selected startups by following MEST Africa on Twitter.