Global Air Media Finds Success in Africa
Global Air Media, based in Maryland, is an FAA licensed drone consultation and education company that serves multiple industries including entertainment, construction, education, and agriculture. The company has successfully exported to multiple countries throughout Africa.
Derrick Small of the U.S. Commercial Service’s communications team, interviews Eno Umoh, co-founder of Global Air Media, who discusses how the U.S. Commercial Service’s support helped open doors for the company to conduct business in Africa. The company has used the International Partner Search and Gold Key Services.
Title: Global Air Media Podcast | Transcript Date: Feb. 9, 2021 | Duration: 28:43
[00:00:02] Host: On this episode of Export Nation, we speak with Eno Umoh, cofounder of Global Air Media and the Global Air Drone Academy.
Global Air Media provides drone consultation and education programs that serve multiple industries including entertainment, construction, education, and agriculture. The company has successfully exported to multiple countries throughout Africa.
Hi, good morning. Thank you for coming on to the show and talking to us about your exporting experience. I would say, we just get right into it. Maybe you could tell me a little bit about your company.
[00:00:40] Eno Umoh: Thank you so much for having me. I am the cofounder of Global Air Media and the Global Air Drone Academy. We are a FAA-licensed drone education, training, consultation company based in Baltimore, Maryland. We first got our start in 2015. Really, after we saw the tremendous growth in the use of drones in a number of different industries.
My inspiration for the company actually came from Nigeria during a trip that I had back around the same time in 2015. I had seen a drone essentially being used for filming and photography purposes. That was really my spark to really find out more about where the technology was going.
I came back to the States and I did a lot of research. Once I realized that drones were going to be used in so many different industries like agriculture, construction, real estate, film and photography, it was a no brainer for me to get into the industry. Previously, I was in the construction and project management field. One of the reasons I felt so comfortable making this switch of careers is because as I mentioned, drones are also being used in construction as well. I co-founded with my partner, Austin Brown. Over the years, we’ve just been developing our service offerings. Soon after, we started the company.
We realized that the industry really wasn’t going to grow unless more people understood the uses of drone technology. Even today, if you ask a random person what drones do, some of them may know the applications but the majority will say, “Hey, they take cool pictures and cool video.” but we knew that more people had to really understand what drone technology was doing, actually how it’s saving lives in a number of different areas. As a result of that, we started the Global Air Drone Academy which is our nonprofit arm dedicated to training youth and adults on this technology.
With these two companies, we’re able to do a lot of programming, not just in the United States, of course, but in a number of different countries. Since then, we’ve been to nine different countries conducting workshops and providing services.
We’ve also trained over 6,000 students all across the world. Yes, we’re just excited to help this emerging industry grow.
[00:03:46] Host: First, that’s an amazing story. I would agree with you about drones. People do think about film and photography and those kind of aspects. Maybe you could talk a little bit more because you seem to have had enough foresight to see that drones would have multiple applications. I guess maybe talk to me about that transition from construction to drone work. Were you using drones in your construction work and then sort of had an epiphany that maybe this would lead to a new market or business development idea?
[00:04:29] Eno: Yes. I think it was more on just really discovering the technology and then realizing that it could be applicable to my own industry. Again, my first exposure was in the film context. Once I have seen it there, when I came back and did a lot of research and realized that yes, it was definitely going to be in a number of different industries and majorly maybe something that people may not think about but agriculture is such a huge face for this industry, not only mapping out areas of farmland, but spraying crops, planting tree seeds and really trying to help the efficiency.
On a global scale, of course, as populations grow, we need to think about ways to revolutionize industries like that. Yes, it was a combination of seeing it in a context that I wasn’t even in and then, realizing that it was applicable to a number of different fields.
[00:05:42] Host: Now, in Nigeria, are you mainly using it for training or do you do primarily focus on agriculture?
[00:05:53] Eno: Yes. Right now, we are definitely focused on training. That’s our main business as you can say here. Training everything from youth to adults who want to be licensed or just generally understand how to use it in their own field. Also, enterprise clients as well. These could be large oil and gas organizations, government agencies, and what have you. We definitely lead with that. We also provide a service as well. Again, we want to create jobs in this industry. We want to help develop a workforce with this growth. There’s a lot of companies out here that are using it for specific purposes but at the end of the day, they’re only helping a small segment of people.
We know that if we’re helping to create jobs in the long run, it’s going to help on a larger scale.
We know that if we’re helping to create jobs in the long run, it’s going to help on a larger scale. We’re focused on STEAM, Science Technology Engineering, Arts, and Math. We feel the skills we teach can be used in these industries as well.
[00:07:15] Host: Well, tell me how your journey started with the U.S. Commercial Service.
[00:07:21] Eno: We were invited to an event in Baltimore through the Baltimore Export Assistance Center. They were a part of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Festival, an annual festival that occurs. I felt the topic would be interesting so I came out. Really just got a good sense of how to grow using the resources provided by the U.S. government. First, we met with Ms. Aisha Jones who is now the director of the Baltimore Export Assistance Center. Through that, we were able just to find out about different resources that I had no idea were available to us. Things like the Gold Key Program where they can essentially act as a business matchmaking service, being able to go in with the backing of the U.S. government, obviously, is more beneficial than not. Yes, it was great to find out about those resources.
[00:08:43] Host: In what ways has the Commercial Service helped your international sales? Now, just so I’m clear, when you started working with the U.S. Commercial Service, was it more business or was it more toward the nonprofit side?
[00:08:59] Eno: It was actually both. We wanted to find out how to just take full advantage of the offerings and the services there but I will say that is progressed into more on the nonprofit side just because it’s much easier to- we’ve seen [unintelligible 00:09:20] leading in with the academy model. Of course, again, anything that has to do with workforce development, job training, STEAM, that is definitely what we’re focused on. We tend to have more traction when we lead with those services.
[00:09:40] Host: What hurdles have you faced? You know what, have you faced any hurdles? I just want to be clear. Everyone faces hurdles in all types of markets that they attempt to enter. What about you? What do you think and what challenges you’ve had to overcome?
[00:09:56] Eno: That’s just something that [unintelligible 00:09:57] just embraced over time. I would say specifically for the drone industry, we’re still a very new industry. When it comes to regulations, every country has different regulations when it comes to drone technology. You may have some countries who are nowhere near having sustainable regulations in place. They may have banned drones all together and they may not even see drones as a viable sustainable tool. Sometimes you have to go through the education phase, sensitization phase so they can understand the benefits of this technology. Then you have other countries who are tech-savvy so I say and understand where this technology is going.
Overall, I’d say the biggest challenge is definitely the regulations. Without government buyin for such a technology like this is going to be difficult. At the end of the day, we’re confident and we know that drones aren’t going anywhere. Drones are definitely here to stay. If anything this pandemic has proved, there are more and more people relying on drone technology for a number of different uses. Again, just having that confidence as an entrepreneur and knowing where you want to go and knowing where you want to be. That has definitely been the deal-breaker for us.
Drones are definitely here to stay. If anything this pandemic has proved, there are more and more people relying on drone technology for a number of different uses.
[00:11:39] Host: I noticed you also had some exports in the United Kingdom. Could you talk to me a little bit about that?
[00:11:49] Eno: Yes, yes. We have worked mainly with the public service department there to do some training primarily targeted towards youth and different school programs that we’ve brought. We have something called the Build-A-Drone workshop. We’ve worked with them to connect with youth and adults just to give them an introduction into drone technology. The UK is pretty advanced when it comes to their regulatory structure. Definitely pretty much mirrors what we have in the states with the FAA. Overall I would say, we’re more focused on the developing countries.
Those that are essentially still in that process of developing their rules and regulations. Right now, some consider the UK as a saturated market so I wouldn’t say it’s a primary target for us. I would say right now it’s definitely Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s where we see the most potential for our services and our trainings and things like that. I would say our first official trip was actually to the UK.
[00:13:26] Host: Oh, really. Okay.
[00:13:28] Eno: That was a connection that was made by Ms. Aisha Jones again. It’s interesting. I’m not sure how- the ones that are listening to this. There’s two different ways essentially that the Commercial Service can work. Essentially, if you are already planning to travel somewhere and you have a contact that’s able to put you in contact with the local embassy there, they will set up a meeting with you. You’re able to go there and discuss your business or you can receive an outright invite to go and it could be some type of speaking engagement.
Before we were heavily involved with the Commercial Services Program, I was a part of a program called the U.S. Speakers Program and that was originally my introduction with— Once we’re able to find out what the Commercial Services [unintelligible]
[00:14:31], that’s pretty much what we continue to go with.
[00:14:36] Host: What did you do with the U.S. Speakers Program?
[00:14:41] Eno: That was an amazing, amazing program. Basically, how they have it structured is they have a database of US-based professionals in a number of different industries. Whenever there’s an event at an embassy, it could be anywhere, any of the embassies across the world, they will seek individuals that can speak about the STEM or any type of emerging technology. I was actually able to do some pretty cool programs through them. I was invited to Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, also the UAE as well, and working through those departments. It was a great way for us to gain more exposure. Through that relationship with the Speakers Program, we were now able to progress to Commercial Services and just to help our brand grow. It’s definitely been an interesting journey. Again, working with the local embassy has made all the difference in the world as far as you exposing yourself to the new country.
[00:16:08] Host: What are some key characteristics your company looks for when you’re seeking out international sales, clients, or partners?
[00:16:20] Eno: Just on a base level obviously, those who are established in the industry seem to have a good track record. A lot of the times, we’ll do our own just research and, of course, internet is a great tool to just seek out potential partners. Outside of that, of course, the local embassy will have a pulse on who may or may not be interested in your products or services. It’s definitely been a combination of who we seek out just on our own research and then taking the advice of the local embassies. Well, of course, they already have developed relationships in a number of different industries. It’s a combination of those.
[00:17:15] Host: Okay, and then so if you could tell me because you have quite a bit of exporting experience, what has been the most satisfying export experience of your career thus far?
[00:17:31] Eno: I mentioned the Gold Key Program. I just think that it is such a amazing tool and opportunity for businesses to use. I think about the actual cost that goes into setting up a Gold Key Program. Compared to what can come out of those meetings, it’s really a drop in the bucket compared to the potential that can come out of that. If you are interested in expanding to these countries, I would definitely recommend going and asking your local Commercial Service officer about the Gold Key Program. Essentially, you give them your company profile, you tell them what industries you’re looking to connect with, what type of companies.
They will set up a series of meetings for you and then you travel to the country. Well, before COVID, of course, you travel to the country and had in-person programs. Now they’re actually doing virtual introductions which hey could yield the same results. The Gold Key Program is by far the most satisfying most rewarding experience working through the Commercial Services.
[00:18:58] Host: You pointed the relevance in Gold Key Service. Is it primarily because of the relationships you developed? Is that still essential? I know in a lot of other countries outside America, a lot of business deals happen because of solid relationships being formed. Would you say that that’s part of it?
[00:19:22] Eno: Certainly, certainly. That’s the crux of business anyway. You’re essentially only as good as your partnerships and your relationships. Really, meeting people and understanding their pain points, understanding how to help them solve problems is very key. It’s also perseverance as well. I think we may have touched on that before now. I don’t want people to think that you’re going to have one meeting and you’re going to get this huge deal. You have to stay in contact. You have to follow up. You have to actually probably make another trip there and really nurture and develop these relationships and eventually, it will happen. I would say our contracts and relationships that we’ve developed in Zambia, it wasn’t after I was there definitely twice I would say. On my third trip was when things really started to move but it definitely takes commitment. It’s not something that you can just move by the wayside.
You have to think about the effort that it took to start your company in the US. It’s going to take a similar effort in that particular country, so it’s not going to be overnight. You definitely have to develop the same relationship that you developed in the States. You have to work to develop that in that respect to country. Just being deliberate with what you’re doing, definitely, it makes all the difference.
[00:21:16] Host: I don’t know if we touched on how much staff you have and how much staff supports all of your efforts.
[00:21:23] Eno: In the States, we’re under 10 [unintelligible 00:21:27] full-time staff but we do hire instructors to teach the various programs that we have. We’ve been able to grow really without having too much overhead. Really now in this whole COVID period, we’ve learned to manage and adapt with the— [unintelligible 00:22:05] a huge slow down with program and we just switched to our virtual format for most of our classes. In the States, we’re about eight full-time staff and then we have another six that we hire part-time for our various courses.
Here in Nigeria, we have four full-time staff now and looking to grow as we progress. It’s just about being disciplined and making sure everyone is on the same page. We look forward to growing the next few years.
[00:22:48] Host: Now, are the majority of your sales export related or do you have a significant amount of domestic sales as well?
[00:22:58] Eno: Definitely. I would say most is still domestic right now. I would say still the international work definitely rivals our domestic work. You can see from myself being in Nigeria now, there was clearly a need for me to be here. One thing I can say is me being on ground has definitely changed a lot. As I would just say, developing those relationships, nurturing relationships. It’s hard to get things going if you’re just going for a few weeks or a month and coming back. You have to be willing to commit the time to do it now.
Of course, not everyone is able to just up and move to another country but having local staff that are able to carry out the vision on your behalf is very important. You have to identify those people, of course, and train them so they understand your business, understand your brand and can go out and sell it. Again, it does take deliberate committed action to making sure that happens.
[00:24:18] Host: Understood. I’m glad you said that. I don’t want to hold you too long. We just have about maybe two more questions I’m curious about. What are some of your future export prospects?
[00:24:30] Eno: We are definitely focused on Sub-Saharan Africa. I would say that’s a high priority right now. I mentioned some of the countries that we’ve worked in, of course here in Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania also as well is coming up. That’s where the core focus is. We’re also looking at other opportunities. Actually, my partner is working on some opportunities in South America specifically Brazil right now. Those are definitely on the list but we’re trying to definitely manage what we have now instead of trying to touch everywhere.
[00:25:25] Host: Then lastly, do you have any pieces of advice for future exporters or exporters in your industry? Anything you want to impart?
[00:25:37] Eno: I would say, obviously, as entrepreneurs, you’ve already made the first step by starting the business and you know what it takes to land deals and become successful. Just use that same curiosity, use that same actions when you’re looking to export. Of course, there’s news out there, all types of politics, and a lot of reasons that may shy you away from doing the business, especially in a place like Africa, it may seem like a daunting venture. I can honestly say I’m very happy with the moves that we’ve made. I feel very comfortable where we are.
We’re just remaining optimistic that we’re going to be able to grow, so definitely just take the leap of faith just like you did when you were starting your business. Do it again when you’re exploring and thinking about going to different countries and just use the resources that are available to you. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be aligned with the U.S. government when you are approaching organizations, so check out the Gold Key Program. The Gold Key Program is not the only option for you.
There’s a number of other programs that you can use. Just get in contact with your local Commercial Services officer in your States. They will walk you through the process. The cost is minimal compared to the outcome and I guarantee that you’ll be happy with the decision you make.
[00:27:20] Host: Eno, I really appreciate it. This is a great discussion. Tell the people where to reach you.
[00:27:25] Eno: Definitely. Feel free there to reach us at globalairdroneacademy.org. You can also check us out on social media; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, @gadroneacademy.
[00:27:40] Host: This podcast is intended to provide information that may be of assistance to U.S. companies. Statements made by Export Nation Podcast guest reflect the views and opinions of that individual. This podcast does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Commercial Service of the individual, his or her employer, or affiliated entity. The specific information provided, resources mentioned, or products or services endorsed are offered by that individual and his or her employer or affiliated entity.
The U.S. Commercial Service assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided by the guest or for the decisions made in reliance on any information provided by the guest in this podcast. The information provided in this podcast does not constitute legal advice.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Export Nation brought to you by the U.S. Commercial Service. For more information on how you can get started exporting, please visit www.trade.gov.
[00:28:43] [END OF AUDIO]
Company Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Company Website: www.globalairmedia.com
Local Office: U.S. Commercial Service Baltimore
Trade Specialist: Aisha Jones - Aisha.Jones@trade.gov
These podcast are intended to provide information that may be of assistance to U.S. companies. The statements by podcast guest reflect the views and opinions of that individual. These podcast do not constitute an endorsement by the Commercial Service of the individual, his or her employer or affiliated entity, the specific information provided, resources (including websites) mentioned, or products or services endorsed or offered by that individual and his or her employer or affiliated entity. The Commercial Service assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided by guest or for the decisions made in reliance on any information provided by the guest in this podcast. The information provided in this podcast does not constitute legal advice.