Cognac Money Is Funding French Drones to Cross the Atlantic

  • Delair-Tech raised $14.5 million mostly from fund Andromede
  • Wants to sell its $33,000-plus drones to businesses abroad

French drones are getting a boost from cognac money. 

Delair-Tech, a Toulouse-based drone maker, said it will expand into the U.S. and China after raising 13 million euros ($14.5 million) from investors including a fund backed by one of France’s biggest cognac-producing families. 

Michael de Lagarde speaks during a news conference on March 11

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Andromede, a holding of the Heriard Dubreuil family, which is the biggest investor in cognac-maker Remy Cointreau SA, led the funding round and owns 22 percent of Delair’s capital. Spirits and wine makers are potential clients for Delair, whose drones are already tailored to monitoring crops as well as mapping out the likes of railways and energy grids. Andromede also owns stakes in drone distributor Avyon and Prodrone, a smaller rival of Delair, according to one of the fund’s representatives.

France has made a name for itself in drone-making through the commercial success of Parrot SA, which sells toy aircraft and has invested in other drone developers including Delair. The country was also one of the first to regulate commercial drone use in 2012, helping spur companies like Delair and rival Airinov, also backed by Parrot and whose aircraft gather crop data for wheat and rapeseed farmers in Europe.

Delair wants to expand out of Europe to sell its drones --the smallest costs $33,000, weighs less than 2 kilos (4.4 pounds) and can fly for about 2 hours-- as well as rent them out, packaged with tailored data-analysis software. While there’s competition to build drones on one hand, and software on the other, packages of both under a single price tag could convince new customers, said Michael de Lagarde, co-founder and chief executive officer of Delair.

“Taking photos with a drone is useless -- our customers want data from those images and software to analyze it,” Lagarde said. “And they want it all in a single package, with minimal hassle.”

While cognac-maker Remy Cointreau isn’t a customer of Delair, it’s been experimenting with flying drones over Remy Martin cognac patches and vineyards, Francois Moriniere, chief executive officer of Andromede subsidiary fund Oeneo, said during a conference. There’s potential applications for drones in winemaking, he said.

Delair’s existing customers include electricity provider Electricite de France SA, mining company Glencore Plc and oil and gas groups like Total SA and Engie SA. Lagarde declined to comment on the company’s valuation, and said it had raised 3 million euros in a previous round in 2013. Delair had sales of 2 million euros last year.

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