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Accel and DJI Will Partner on Special Fund Focused on Drones

It appears this would be the first venture fund focused on drones.

Vicki Burton via Flickr

The deal to fund drone company DJI’s recent $75 million investment round, which valued it at $8 billion according to a Re/code source, was competitive. Startup investment firm Accel, best known for its early call on Facebook, ultimately led the round.

DJI ended up choosing Accel in part because it agreed to work with the drone maker on creating a separate investment fund focused on the drone ecosystem, according to multiple people familiar with both companies’ plans. The two entities share a similar vision about the significance and future of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

It’s not clear how much money Accel intends to raise for the fund or what role DJI will play, but the move is a clear effort to help stoke the development of apps and other hardware that would work in conjunction with drones. The technology is still seen by many as a hobby, and both DJI and Accel are attempting to create an ecosystem that will allow drones to turn into scalable business ventures, according to the sources.

Accel declined to comment, and DJI declined to offer more detailed information.

“A lot is under development,” DJI communications manager Michael Perry told Re/code. “We’ll have a bigger announcement in two to three weeks. At that time I can give you a lot more information about how we’ll be partnering together, the advisory board we’re putting together and how the fund is tied to some hardware and software initiatives that we have coming out.”

According to data from startup analytics company Mattermark, there have only been 45 publicly disclosed venture investments in individual drone companies. Data from a similar firm, CB Insights, shows that the amount of funding in the industry has sharply increased in recent years.

This appears to be the first venture firm fund focused on drones, although there’s a small $327,000 drone syndicate fund made up of angel investors.

“[A tailored venture fund] will encourage more entrepreneurs to go into this sector and build,” Jay Bregman, founder of drone geofencing and verification service Verifly, said in an interview.

Accel has been public about its bet on the nascent drone industry — its partners think the hardware and software that powers unmanned UAVs will be the next big thing.

It’s less clear why DJI, which manufactures all-purpose, consumer-friendly quadcopters, would want to support a fund that could potentially invest in competitors.

But DJI’s ultimate goal is to serve as the platform or operating system for a larger drone industry. It stands to benefit if that ecosystem gets a jump start in financing. Furthermore, depending on its involvement in the fund, it could theoretically be involved in picking the portfolio and choosing complementary companies over competitors.

Bregman described a range of different technological developments that could support DJI’s platform initiative. Some of them are hardware related, like drones built for specific tasks such as carrying medical defibrillators or delivering supplies over long distances. Others are software related, like services to allow drones and their operators to be verified and trusted, to perform security surveillance or to conduct agricultural tasks like crop spraying.

“[Drones are] like the Internet in the early nineties,” Bregman said. “The platform has to mature for these types of services.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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