Bobby Healy on his hopes to scale drone delivery in Ireland by 2021

26 Feb 2020549 Views

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Manna founder and CEO Bobby Healy. Image: Connor McKenna/Siliconrepublic.com

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Manna founder Bobby Healy discusses his plans to take drone food delivery to UCD and beyond.

Today (25 February), drone delivery company Manna announced its plans to launch a food delivery service at University College Dublin (UCD), which will enable people on campus to order food online from Just Eat and have it delivered within minutes by drone.

Yesterday, we caught up with Manna founder and CEO Bobby Healy at the Enterprise Ireland Start-up Showcase for 2020, where he filled us in on the company’s long and short-term plans, which include making drone deliveries a reality across Ireland by 2021.

However, Healy is attempting to expand in a market where there may be a number of hurdles for drone-based businesses to overcome in the future.

Drone regulation

“The obstacles are just like any other business,” he told Siliconrepublic.com. “Our biggest obstacle or operational thing to achieve is regulation, so it’s a highly regulated space. It’s not an obstacle, we’re working very well with the IAA [Irish Aviation Authority] and we’re getting there and it’s proceeding very nicely.

“The biggest – I won’t say obstacle – it’s more the most interesting thing about this business, is that there are so many things to do. There’s software, there’s hardware. The hardware flies, it’s regulated, and then you have all sorts of other governmental and general hearts-and-minds problems to solve.”

On the topic of the technology behind Manna, we asked what the impact of the start-up’s partnership with Cubic Telecom has been so far.

‘We’ll be delivering coffee in the morning, we’ll be delivering breakfast rolls … Hangovers? They’ll be a thing of the past’
– BOBBY HEALY

“I think it’s great – it adds a bit of awareness for who we are in the telecoms industry,” Healy said. “Telecoms actually play an important role in the drone space in its entirety and, for us, the actual functionality that we get from them is all around redundancy and mission-critical communications.

“That’s not something that we need to focus on when we’re essentially a logistics company, so any time a third party can solve a particular technology problem for us, we’ll just hire them to do it for us, and that’s the case with Cubic.

“They happen to be the leader in the world, doing what they’re doing, and I know [Cubic Telecom CEO] Barry Napier well – he’s a great guy. They’re a great team. Perfect addition to what we’re doing.”

Future plans

Healy said the launch in UCD, which will take place late next month, will enable the company to deliver food to a market of about 30,000 people. But, beyond that, there are plans for Manna to enter a wider market in the near future.

“We’ll do another three or four of what we call ‘launch projects’ in Ireland over the course of 2020. We’re hoping to fully scale it out in the Irish market in 2021,” he added.

“I think people can expect to be getting drone delivery everywhere in Ireland from next year onwards. In the meantime, about 50,000 to 100,000 people in Ireland will be able to avail of it.”

Healy said that food delivery was the obvious starting point for the company because it has the highest volume of orders, but he said that there will be other uses for the drones, “because the drones are there 24 hours a day and we want to put them to use”.

“We’ll be delivering coffee in the morning, we’ll be delivering breakfast rolls, we’ll be delivering evening dinners, but we’ll also be delivering local convenience store [goods], over-the-shelf pharmacy, everything you might need from your local economy.

“Hangovers? They’ll be a thing of the past.”

Working with Enterprise Ireland

As we were chatting at the Enterprise Ireland Start-up Showcase, Healy also touched on how Enterprise Ireland has helped in the development of his business.

“In my last three businesses I’ve run – CarTrawler, Eland and Manna – it’s about the international presence and the international access. We’ve got a lady [from Enterprise Ireland] called Máire Walsh, based in San Francisco, and she basically kicks open doors for Manna with investors.

“She gets me introductions to the best Silicon Valley investors you could imagine and she’s an extension of my business there. The same lady, in a different hat, works for CarTrawler and represents CarTrawler in the United States, and opens up some of the biggest travel technology companies to do business with CarTrawler.

“I’d say this to any HPSU [high-potential start-up] business. Consider [Enterprise Ireland] as part of your team. That’s the key thing. Consider them part of your team and use them that way. You ask them to do things for you and they do it.

“Teach them, train them, spend time with them. They’ll become an extension of your business around the world and it’s an incredibly strong resource for any business to have.”

‘There’s lots of start-ups … It’s a bit like trying to decide which of your children is the best looking’
–NIALL MCEVOY

Niall McEvoy, Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU manager focusing on ICT, made it clear that the feeling from the agency was mutual.

“There’s lots of start-ups here today, there’s 127 start-ups,” McEvoy told Siliconrepublic.com. “It’s a bit like trying to decide which of your children is the best looking, but the one we’re most excited about here today is Manna and Bobby Healy.”

Aside from Manna, McEvoy said that some of the other start-ups that really impressed him over the last year in the HPSU programme included quantum computing business Equal 1 Laboratories and AI company EdgeTier.

“That’s just a small number of a long list of 127,” he added. “Certainly for people who want to check out the depth of companies in the 127 this year, they can do so by checking out the Enterprise Ireland Showcase website.”

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com