IONA develops zero-emission autonomous drone solutions to enable profitable, convenient and sustainable logistics in low population density areas. In a new economy that relies more heavily on logistics, millions of people and businesses can’t access basic delivery or experience high delivery surcharges. It slows down the local economy and underserves rural market segments.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
I grew up in Paris, France, and followed a quite typical start-up enthusiast journey: I was a terrible student curious about everything but school. I had a decent level in various Martial Arts and sports, won a few tournaments, but I was also a -massive- geek: I started blogging on new technologies when I was 14 and continued to gravitate around innovation and start-ups for many years.
I ended up doing a BBA at ESSEC, a good business school in France, as I’m a quite okay test-taker. There, for four years I seized every opportunity to travel the world (and learn English), and thanks to an apprenticeship in a big US-based company, it was the time of my life: they paid my tuition fees, a decent salary, and for the last two years I was working with them 6 months per year, studying abroad the rest of the time. I grew an interest in sustainability while diving, volunteering and working with local businesses, and needed to find a more powerful way to act.
When I realised the impact of business on our societies, I decided to dedicate my career to impact-for-profit and/or meaningful businesses. I went back to Europe to continue with a Master at London Business School, after which I created IONA.
What is a fun fact about you?
Before IONA, I had never flew a drone in my entire life! Not even a small one for a video clip. To start the project, I partnered with senior and very experienced aerospace engineers, and I did extensive researches even before launching the company, but it surely didn’t help my imposter syndrome. In a way, I think it helped me, as I came to this industry without any pre-conceived ideas or limiting beliefs. I had a vison of what could be down, and used my partners to run regular reality-checks on what the technology could do. I was pushing them to adopt a problem-solving mindset.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Nobody (sane) can deny climate change or its terrible effects on societies, biodiversity and natural disasters. The first one is often forgotten: some believe that it won’t affect them, because they live there or don’t need that, but the reality is that everything is connected and that untying the interdependencies between people/countries is necessarily reducing the quantity or quality of the outcome. We based the 3rd industrial revolution on fossil fuels, and tend to forget that even if what we see everyday is mostly around services, what we really need to live is still based on very physical stuff life food, materials and energy. It’s therefore quite straightforward: either we find a way to reduce drastically our impact on the world, or we simply won’t live. We should see this problem as an amazing challenge that will make humanity better.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Drones? Talking about drones doesn’t have much sense because it would be like talking about “vehicles on wheels”. I’ll narrow it down to drone delivery in rural areas. I believe -and it’s a consensus- that it has a bright future! 85% of the last-mile delivery costs are due to labour and fuel which is a nightmare in low-density population areas and complex terrains (e.g. archipelagos): drones play on both. First, you reduce the overall energy used because you can remove a lot of equipment weight (driver, seats, board…), switch the power source to green electricity, and you cut a significant amount of traffic-induced CO2 because in rural areas, people are completely car-dependent and not by choice.
In addition, you reduce costs and enable societies to improve the quality of life in rural areas which can empower the local economy and improve well-being. I believe that likely 30% of the global population could be served by autonomous drone networks in 20 years. This is, in most countries, the percentage of rural and suburban residents for which it makes sense to do so considering the energy and costs involved. For instance, last-mile delivery is a £1.4Bn market just in Scotland, where 1M people experience delivery surcharges (£45M in 2021) or can’t access delivery.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
I’m a firm believer of the credit-card vote. It works for the things you buy, but also for the things you boycott. The good news is that the wealthiest part of the population is the one that must cut its CO2 emissions so instead of pointing out fingers, we must consider what we do compared to the law of physics: your buying power, even if you buy a service, is energy-consumption.
A French climate expert named Jean-Marc Jancovici often says “you have three ways to reduce the energy intensity: efficiency, sobriety or poverty: the last one is sobriety for those who don’t have a choice”. As a society, the ecological transition must be inclusive, or will never happen because many people experiencing poverty can’t accept more.