DroneLife Exclusive – part of the Girls Can’t Drone series. Gretchen West is one of a new breed of business women – smart, effective, and focused on how they can contribute. And as an influential woman in the drone industry, West is making big contributions to changing the way business thinks about drones.
Her career began with a passion for nonprofit work and has spanned fields from healthcare to technology – landing her now at the forefront of the burgeoning drone industry, a leading voice in efforts to promote the benefits of drones and to break down barriers that inhibit the industry’s growth.
Gretchen is currently a senior advisor and subject matter expert for the Global UAS group at law firm Hogan Lovells, where she works with an international client base. Her expertise has been earned in the industry trenches: before joining Hogan Lovells, Gretchen was at San Francisco start-up DroneDeploy as Vice President of Business Development and Regulatory Affairs; before that, Gretchen served as nonprofit AUVSI’s Executive Vice President, overseeing advocacy efforts and business development initiatives for the drone and robotics industry.
Gretchen’s newest project is the Commercial Drone Alliance – the nonprofit founded by industry stakeholders including Cisco, AirMap, Lift, DataWing and Measure. The Alliance’s goal is to promote and develop the drone industry – helping commercial end users find the value of drones and understand the marketplace. “Mining, insurance, real estate – big enterprise end users are sometimes skeptical about the long-term ROI for drones,” says Gretchen. “Our goal is to work with them to understand that… What can drones do for their business? What do they need to be successful?” The Alliance serves as a link between enterprise and drone manufacturers and service providers. “We need to be realistic about the future of drones so that manufacturers can be focused on the right needs for the commercial end users. If they’re not adopting the technology, then the industry does not exist,” she comments.
Advocacy is a part of the Alliance’s mission as well. “We need to help change public perception – bad rules are coming out because the conversation is all about bad drones. We want to focus the conversation on the benefits of the technology.”
While her professional life is focused on commercial drones, Gretchen flies for fun, too. “I’m not very good,” she laughs. “Like most people, I’ve even crashed before!” But Gretchen says she enjoys getting out there with her kids. “I’m just trying to get them interested in the technology… when you think about STEM, drones are a great way to get young girls and boys interested in the STEM professions.”
Asked what trends she sees in the drone industry, West says that a clear trend has emerged. “It’s hard to predict what is going to happen in the future, but I think 5, 10 , 20 years from now – what everyone is talking about is automation. We’re a long way away from this from a regulatory perspective, but that’s where the industry is moving.” And while she say that there will always be a difference between the commercial side and the recreational side, she sees them both growing. “As we move towards automation, drones will become ubiquitious.”
“We’re going to see an explosion in software technology – there will no limit to the things that drones can do,” she says, naming some of the benefits that drones can contribute. “They’re more affordable, they’re easy to operate – they could be an everyday thing.” Gretchen points out, however, that drone stakeholders must work together to ensure that policy and technology develop in concert to support the industry: “It’s on us to make that future happen.”