Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that features Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. My guest today, Dyan Gibbens, Co-founder and CEO of Trumbull Unmanned. Dyan, welcome to the show.
Dyan: Happy to be here.
Russ: Tell us about Trumbull Unmanned.
Dyan: Trumbull Unmanned is a Forbes Top 25 Veteran founded company and we fly unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, in high risk environments. We fly, collect, and analyze data required for our clients to make informed decisions.
Russ: How old is the company?
Dyan: We were unofficially incorporated—we started in December ’13, and then were incorporated April of 2014 here in Texas.
Russ: How is business?
Dyan: Business is great. We are just signing some five-year contracts with our clients, with some supermajors. We are performing more operations, we’re performing more applied research, and we just started Trumbull Canada, which we’re really excited about.
Russ: I’ve done some research and it seems like your business sort of falls into energy, the whole energy sector, and federal government, the Department of Defense. Do I have that right?
Russ: Which one is more important?
Dyan: They’re both important and they’re both tied to national security, and so that’s important to us as well. As veterans, we wanted to serve our country, we want to serve the environment, and we want to use this technology to empower and enable the next generations of scientists and engineers.
Russ: You mentioned veterans, and I know for a fact that probably everybody in the company is a veteran, is that right?
Dyan: All except for one. We’re also expanding, and so he is one of the most experience UAV operators in the world for both systems flying, external for inspections offshore, but also for internal inspections that are inside of tanks, inside of flexicokers, other vessels as well.
Russ: You are a veteran from the Air Force, is that right?
Russ: And you went to the Air Force Academy?
Dyan: I did.
Russ: How many more of the employees at Trumbull Unmanned went to the Air Force Academy?
Dyan: My husband also went to the Air Force Academy and that’s where we met. We met on the parachute team, the skydiving team there, and he was a year ahead of me. He was an instructor, but not my instructor, to clarify. I studied engineering there, was on the skydiving team, and I learned to fly at the Air Force Academy.
Russ: Tell me about the background of the other Veterans.
Dyan: Tye, on our team, he went to the Naval Academy, played football there all four years, majored in Quantitative Economics and is a JTAC in the Marine Corps. Charles was a Navy Seal and served in that capacity and now he’s at the Air Force Academy leading UAS operations and supporting Special Operations Command. Alex is a high time sensor operator and then an MQ-1/9 which is a Group 4 and Group 4 UAS.
Russ: Tell us about the commitment to veterans.
Dyan: Veterans have had a commitment to serve us and we should have a commitment to serve them. Houston has the second highest population of veterans in the country. And so, post-service, about 4% of men and about 7% of women are starting companies. For me, I will continue to serve veterans as long as I live, and I want to help them transition, and empower, enable them to serve in a new capacity.
Russ: How did you get into drones and how did the others on your team?
Dyan: Each of us has a different path and none of them are linear. My husband and I, we started different paths towards this area. I was an acquisitions officer in the Air Force, and Program Manager and Engineer for stealth nuclear cruise missiles. Those are essentially unmanned systems that are one way. That put me on a trajectory toward unmanned systems. I supported Air Force One, Engineering Logistics and the Global Hawk, which is a large unmanned aircraft system for the Air Force. Those sort of put me on a trajectory, and then my Ph.D. coursework and research was focused on UAS integration and industrial engineering.
Russ: When you’re on a project, do you sometimes find yourself being the pilot?
Dyan: I would do that early on. I went through training with Lockheed Martin Indago, I think as one of the first women, if not the first woman. Originally, I thought I would be doing a lot of the engineering, a lot of the flying, but then my role changed over time where a lot of it is the relationship development, speaking, business development where I still do the other areas because we’re a small company. We wear many hats.
Russ: Tell us about a special project you’ve done for oil and gas companies.
Dyan: We’ve worked with Chevron for several years on emergency response exercises and incident response exercises. In 2016, we worked with them to fly their first commercial night flight and we also use unmanned systems during the day and the night to identify what would potentially be any sort of oil on the shore. We flew from an Army Corps of Engineers vessel, took off from a boat, and then flew over to the shoreline, and streamed that data back to the boat and then to other locations so that someone could inspect it from anywhere in the world. At the time, this was very forward in what we were doing and now it’s commonplace. We’re happy to work with companies like Chevron to test that and to move that forward and be prepared for instances such as hurricane Harvey.
Russ: Fascinating. When you sort of describe some of the different applications, I take it that you must also do fixed wing drones as well as the quadcopters, right?
Dyan: We do. And so, one of the things we’re really excited about is the Department of Transportation UAS Integration Pilot Program, DOT UAS IPP….ABC, 123—it’s a lot of acronyms. We’re really excited about that because we are partnered with Alaska. There were about 150 different entities that applied, ten of them were awarded. We were one of the ten with Alaska. We’re going to fly linear corridors, or pipelines, on an 800 mile stretch and a 60 mile stretch in Alaska, and also in Cook Inlet. We’re going to take those lessons learned and bring that down here to the lower 48 for our clients for long linear corridors and pipelines. We’re going to use computer vision machine learning to detect anomalies on the pipeline. What that really means is looking at encroachment and looking for leaks as well.
Russ: Out of coincidence I happened to be in your office one time near here and saw one. The young man who was showing it to me, a veteran, mentioned how much it costs. These are not little DJI drones. These are up in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one, right?
Dyan: They get there, yes. We have everything spanning from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand. A lot of that is a sensor. A drone, or a UAV, is a tool to carry a sensor to collect data.
Russ: As you know, this show promotes innovation and entrepreneurs who are often spending a lot of their time fundraising. Did you guys do fundraising to kick off the company?
Dyan: We did not. Trumbull is 100% organically grown, and as you know, you join the military to get rich—I’m kidding, not at all. You join the military to serve, and we wanted to serve our clients and so we are 100% organically grown, from our contracts, from our savings, and we don’t have debt and are very excited about that, and we are profitable.
Russ: To the degree that you can, share with us a Department of Defense application that you might do.
Dyan: For the Federal Government we support DoD, Department of Defense, we’ve worked with FEMA, we supported FEMA, and we’re doing some Air Force trials on UAS, Unmanned Aircraft System Group 4 and Group 5 training. For special operations, we’re looking at different technology that they can integrate now, and we’re looking at also second and third order problems. For the Air Force, it’s taking six-month courses down to six weeks and taking six-week courses down to four days.
Russ: The recognition you’ve got is very impressive. There’s pictures of you with the President, I know you’ve appeared before the Senate, you’ve been in Fortune magazine, Huffington Post, even the Society of Petroleum Engineers recognized you as a distinguished young scientist.
Dyan: A distinguished lecturer, and they paid for me to go around the world to speak to hundreds of oil and gas companies and thousands of individuals on how unmanned aircraft systems can be used in the oil and gas industry.
Russ: As a business show, it seems like one of the challenges for the future might be, it’s such a rapidly developing sector. I’m sure there’s new competitors coming on all of the time. There’s new products, new technologies, which forces you to try to stay ahead. What do you guys do to address that?
Dyan: There’s a lot of change, as you mentioned. The technology refresh rate is increasingly increasing. For us, we spend a lot of time researching; we work very closely with many OEMs, the manufacturers in the industry; we work with, and JR has worked with defense and DIUx, which is Defense Innovation Unit Experimental; we work with many different folks to stay on top of that. One challenge for us as a business is that the technology, the rate technology has increased has outpaced the rate that regulations have increased. We want to ensure that we’re working with folks in DC, that we’re working with lawmakers, that we’re working with the FAA to help move this forward, not only for our company but for the entire industry.
Russ: Let’s say that we have a young female watching this right now and is so excited about hearing your story and aspires to the level of success that you’ve had. What advice would you give her?
Dyan: I would say success depends on how you define it. For someone wanting to go into STEM, I would say try different things and learn what you like and what you may dislike. I would say ask questions and find different mentors, both men and women, that can help you through this path. I would also say, don’t let one math class or one thermodynamics course dismay you and stop that desire to pursue a career in STEM.
Russ: Finally, before I let you go, we love it that you’re headquartered here in Houston, Texas. We think we have a unique city, but what is it about Houston that keeps you here and that you like?
Dyan: Houston has it all. Houston is the energy capital of the world, which is why we’re here, and I’m a Texan. After we served in the Air Force, my husband and I moved back to Texas and we’ve been here four and a half, almost five years. I think this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and so this is home for me. This will be the headquarters for Trumbull for the foreseeable future, as long as we’re serving energy.
Russ: Dyan, thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Dyan: I appreciate it, Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Dyan Gibbens, Co-founder and CEO of Trumbull Unmanned. And this is HXTV.
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