Friday, October 30, 2015

LETU Alumnus Wins Big on Shark Tank

A LeTourneau University education equips students to pursue their Christian faith by doing excellent work.  One of our LETU alumni is reaping the fruits of his labors as seen last week on the ABC television network program, "Shark Tank."  Another LETU alumnus is scheduled to appear on the same program tomorrow.

The TV show has become a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit and bold vision.  From our founder to this fall's freshmen, LETU continues to be the place for those seeking bold new solutions informed by the ancient virtues of our faith.

Friday night's episode of "Shark Tank" was a big win for 2001 LETU aviation graduate JD Claridge of Sandpoint, Idaho, who is the founder, president and CEO of xCraft, which makes a revolutionary hybrid unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or "drone," the X PlusOne.

He and his business partner, Charles Manning, walked into the "Shark Tank" to seek $500,000 in funding for 20% share of their company and walked away with $1.5 million in funding for a 25% share, along with historic participation from all five shark investors.

The five "shark" investors included Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec, Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John and Lori Greiner, who each put up $300,000 and will each receive a 5% share of the new business.  The sharks are all seasoned investors and entrepreneurs who are as valued for their experience and mentoring advice as for their cash investments.

A video demonstration showed that Claridge's patent-pending, hybrid, remotely piloted aircraft combines the vertical takeoff, hovering and landing capabilities of a helicopter drone, but also can climb to 10,000 feet and turn to fly like an airplane at 60 mph.  It is anticipated to sell for about $1,800.

It also can run autonomously on a flight plan built on a personal computer software.  Claridge and Manning demonstrated the drone as they walked into the shark tank following the aircraft, with Claridge at the controls, landing the aircraft gently on a table before the shark investors.

Claridge, an aerospace engineer, is the inventor of the drone. He and Manning, CEO of a mobile analytics tech company, partnered to commercialize Claridge's design. While in the "shark tank," the team also showed a patent-pending product still being developed that will turn a smartphone into a drone, aptly named the "Phone Drone," anticipated to retail for about $400.

Claridge said we are witnessing a new dawn of aviation--the age of unmanned flight.

At LeTourneau University, we agree.  LETU's new Remotely Piloted Aircraft program is right on the cutting edge of training for this fast-growing field that has immense potential for growth over the next decades to come.

Claridge and his ingenuity in this invention remind me of our LETU founder R.G. LeTourneau who looked for a new, better way of doing things. And with that innovation was a commitment and perseverance to overcome obstacles and succeed.  We congratulate him and wish him all the best.

Tomorrow night, another LETU alumnus Mike Hostetler and Julie Phelps Hostetler are scheduled to appear on "Shark Tank" at 8 p.m. with their business idea called "Rent Like a Champion."  We hope they also find success in the shark tank.