Get to know the GENIUS NY Cohort 7 teams in our weekly profiles leading up to the Pitch Finals on Oct. 4, 2023.
A finalist for the world’s largest uncrewed aerial systems accelerator may be expected to have a technical college major, such as computer science or engineering. But the co-founder of Aloft, one of five teams selected to compete in this year’s GENIUS NY competition, graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in poetry. “Imagine graduating with a degree in poetry during one of the worst recessions in recent history. Not exactly what I would call an excellent job market,” Aloft’s Joshua Ziering said. “Really the only time you make money as a poet is either if you have a bestselling book or after you’re dead. And I was not really interested in pursuing either one of those.”
Ziering ended up starting a marketing agency, but he considers words his second love. His first is aviation. A pilot of uncrewed aircraft for over 15 years, Ziering started by flying model planes in high school, a hobby funded by his side business of fixing computers and eventually piloting real planes. When people started talking about using uncrewed aerial systems for delivery in the early 2010s, Ziering saw a chance to combine his lifetime love of aviation and his entrepreneurial skills. “Everybody was saying that they’re a drone expert and they’re starting these drone companies. And I distinctly remember thinking, ‘How can this be?’ I have flown more things than they have. I have crashed more things than they have flown. This doesn’t make any sense to me,” Ziering said.
He started his first drone-based business, a delivery service, soon after. Though the company received attention from CNN, Fox, and NPR, it ultimately wasn’t profitable. Ziering said he took a step back so he could examine the larger uncrewed aerial system landscape and what it needed to succeed. “We’re going to need a management platform for all of the drone delivery companies, for all of the commercial drone operators, for all of the folks who want to fly drones at work for dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. That is really what was the basis for what would become Aloft,” Ziering said.
Ziering said it was no surprise that he turned his first company’s mistakes into success for the next one. It goes back to how he learned to fly. “By just going out and trying [to fly] my model airplanes, breaking them into a million pieces, putting them back together and going out again and doing the same thing over and over until I got to success, I think that’s very informative to my entrepreneurial journey,” Ziering said. “Failure is just another path forward towards success.”
Aloft is setting up their company for growth at CenterState CEO’s The Tech Garden. Join the Central New York community to see Ziering, along with the four other GENIUS NY Cohort 7 finalist companies, compete for a chance to win a $1 million prize at Innovation Night featuring GENIUS NY Pitch Finals on Oct. 4 in Downtown Syracuse. Get a chance to meet and network with other emerging startups in Central New York, from the Syracuse Surge Accelerator and The Tech Garden. Tickets are free but registration is required. Learn more and register here!