We talked with Lorenzo Rota of Volare Aerial Imaging while he was “out in the field” — in vineyards by Talmage for a project with the Mendocino Winegrowers Association — to study the difference between dry farmed and irrigated vineyards.
He recently graduated from the StartUp Mendocino business management program. The vineyard he happened to be in while we talked is one of the oldest documented dry farmed vineyards at about 100 years old — totally dry farmed with no irrigation at all. Now let’s get started …
Are vineyards one of your specialties or is it aerial photography of vineyards that people hire you for?
Mapping is my specialty. I’ve documented fire damage in Sonoma County for vineyards, and I create maps of vineyards for various projects they undertake.
We have special sensors that look at certain bands of light and then detect the health of the leaves of the plant. You know how well the plant is doing with specialized sensors that they put on drones.
The main focus of the work right now, however, is providing the service to dispense beneficial insects for organic farmers. It’s a much larger drone that holds a hopper and computer, which controls dispensing of the insects on crops such as vineyards.
We just did an organic walnut orchard and we’ve provided the service for some cannabis crops, and for strawberries down in the Monterey and Salinas area.
Last weekend I was doing three different organic walnut orchards — they’re doing research on the effectiveness of beneficial insects for walnut orchards.
When you are introducing your business, after having done the StartUp Mendocino pitch training, how do you introduce yourself? And what are you most known for?
I’m Lorenza Rota of Volare Aerial Imaging and we provide specialized Drone Services for both agriculture and construction.
Our newest service for agriculture is dispensing beneficial insects for organic farms.
In the construction venue, we provide monitoring of construction sites on a weekly basis or more frequently using videos or photographs and maps over time.
What was a training in StartUp Mendocino that was inspiring to you?
Well, I think let me think about that a bit here.
I think that working with the other cohort participants to see how they’ve grown their business, how they’ve navigated successes and failures, and what they’ve done with their business — that’s been inspiring.
Seeing other people in the same shoes, struggling with similar issues … all the new business startup issues one has.
And then having the resources that West Center brings, with the financial modeling spreadsheet to look at all the inputs of costs and expenses. It helps us figure out what would be the appropriate pricing to maintain profitability.
Excellent, so you appreciated the financial trainings most, as well as the whole process of being with cohort participants. What was your TOP TAKEAWAY from one of those sessions?
Yes, exactly right. One top takeaway? … That the price of our products needs to include and account for all the overhead and future capital expenditures that we’re going to need to expand the business. That includes looking at expanding financing as well.
What’s starting to change for you and your business as a result of being in StartUp Mendocino?
I think it’s the future focus on planning for investments in the company, whether it’s computer workstations or more advanced drones. We need to keep current and competitive, so there will have to be additional investment and a plan for that.
Great to hear about planning for where you invest. Now what is one characteristic or talent that you have that helps you with your business process?
I go out to customers, to find them.
A lot of people advertise and wait for customers to come to them, whereas I actively decide whom I want my customers to be and go find them, then talk to them about what their needs are.
Today’s project was talking to a vineyard owner who’s been cultivating a family vineyard, to find out what ways drones could help them. I want to find out if they use organic types of products on their vineyard, and is that something that drones can do, to identify potential customers plus learn their needs.
Great to hear you’re proactive. And what’s something we wouldn’t otherwise know about you?
I worked on my very first projects in 2019 and 2020 by Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric — to use drones to inspect all their electrical transmission towers for wildfire risk mitigation in response to the Paradise fire. I personally inspected over 600 electrical towers using drones.
What’s a question we should ask you, and what’s your answer to it?
“How did you come up with your company’s name?”
One morning, I was sitting and thinking of what the name should be.
And on my Facebook feed that morning there happened to be a post about this singer Domenico Modugno and his very famous song, “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” (Volare). And it happened to be my mom’s favorite song. When you see the lyrics, it seemed like an obvious name for a drone company.
Interestingly enough, when I did a search for other companies with the same name, another drone company came up that was located only 10 blocks from my house! But I saw that they had given up their LLC registration and company name, so I checked with them and they said it was okay if I use the similar name.
Thank you to all the sponsors of Startup Mendocino and the whole community that have been following along!