Abby Speicher Carroll MBA’15 has officially survived a swim with the sharks.
You know the sharks we’re talking about—the well-connected, deep-pocketed lineup of investors who listen to budding entrepreneurs pitch their businesses on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” No stranger to pitching, Carroll aced the presentation and struck a deal with Mark Cuban: $300,000 for 10 percent equity in her business, DARTdrones , a flight school for drone pilots.
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For Carroll, DARTdrones is a “born at Babson” story. She came to Babson’s MBA program specifically for the entrepreneurship focus and founded DARTdrones her first year. She developed the business as a member of the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab® and even won the B.E.T.A. Challenge in 2015. Funnily, Carroll says the B.E.T.A. experience may have prepared her for “Shark Tank.” “I was actually less nervous to pitch on ‘Shark Tank’ than I was at the B.E.T.A. Challenge!”
In the months since landing the deal with Cuban, DARTdrones has more than doubled its flight instructor count, expanded the number of cities classes are offered in, and added five new courses. In April, Carroll returned to Babson as one of the 2017 Alumni Rising Stars, honored at the Celebrating Achievements in Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® event.
We caught up with her to learn more about Babson’s hand in developing DARTdrones.
What attracted you to the drone industry?
It offers incredible potential for any new startup. The industry is so new; there are few established big players but it’s expected to grow exponentially. DARTdrones has time to grow as the market grows, and I think we have done a great job of establishing ourselves as the drone training experts in the industry.
What Babson resources or experiences helped you move DARTdrones forward?
Babson was so incredibly helpful with launching DARTdrones. In many of my courses, my team worked on DARTdrones and created a go-to-market strategy and a marketing plan. The Entrepreneur Intensity Track helped me stay focused on what I needed to be launched by graduation. The WIN Lab gave me a great support system of entrepreneurs who kept me excited and focused.
Winning the B.E.T.A. Challenge not only gave me confidence in my idea, but helped us build our first team. With the $20,000, we were able to hire our first five interns who worked with us over the summer at Babson’s Summer Venture Program (SVP). At graduation, I wasn’t quite ready to take our team out into the world to work on DARTdrones, but after three months with coaching from advisors at SVP, I felt ready to really run DARTdrones on my own.
How is Babson still a part of DARTdrones’ story?
DARTdrones was literally built by Babson students and alumni. Since graduation, we have had 13 Babson graduate students, undergraduate students, and alumni work on DARTdrones. We now have two full-time Babson alumni on our team: May Thisyamondol MBA’15 leads our marketing department and Jason Narcoonis MBA’15 leads our operations department.
How do you stay connected to Babson?
I’ve come back to speak in Babson classes and stayed in touch with professors. My best friends from Babson are a constant support system for me and continue to be key advisors of DARTdrones. This year, I even judged the B.E.T.A. Challenge.
What advice do you have for others about getting a company started?
Get started on your minimum viable products! DARTdrones didn’t make it here overnight. I had the same pitfalls and distractions as any other student or entrepreneur. If you commit to putting your head down and working hard for the next few years, you can get there!
What’s the best part of being a Babson alumna?
I created friends for life at Babson. There is no better support system who understands the hardships of starting a new company.