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Eye in the Sky: Bemidji High School graduate's business takes flight

BEMIDJI--Taylor Andersen has an eye in the sky--an electronic one at least. With a remote control attached to a tablet, Andersen seamlessly directs his hovering drone wherever he needs. At one moment, it just floats at eye level. In the next, it'...

Taylor Andersen demonstrates his drone's capabilities on Wednesday. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)
Taylor Andersen demonstrates his drone's capabilities on Wednesday. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI-Taylor Andersen has an eye in the sky-an electronic one at least.

With a remote control attached to a tablet, Andersen seamlessly directs his hovering drone wherever he needs. At one moment, it just floats at eye level. In the next, it's zipping around dozens of feet in the air, all while taking footage or photographs of whatever may be below its camera.

While flying drones may be a fun hobby for some, it's turned into a profitable business for the 2018 Bemidji High School graduate. A little more than a year ago, he began his company, TJA Drone Services, providing footage to realtors, the county, and anyone else who may need an aerial view.

And he's just getting started.

"I'm like 'Well, this could actually be something if I'm good at it,'" Andersen said about when he first began looking into the possibility of starting the business. "I'm just trying to network with as many people (as I can) and trying to build contacts."

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His website shows some of the videos he's completed. They move from close-up shots of beautiful lakeside homes to broad aerial views that show the full scope of the lake, the surrounding woods, and other homes in the area.

"It's really a benefit for lake homes to show the lakeshore," Andersen said about the aerial footage.

Another of his projects was taking footage of Division Street, showing the construction progress from above the newly installed roundabouts at Bemidji High School and Gene Dillon Elementary.

Even though he may be relatively new to the business, he's already started branching out of the immediate area, securing jobs in surrounding communities such as Grand Rapids and Brainerd. He also gave a presentation about his business at the LaunchPad, a local business network and entrepreneur center.

Per his website, Andersen offers a range of services, from marketing videos and photography to high resolution mapping to volumetric measuring. If he really needs to get steady, accurate footage, he can set the drone to auto pilot, allowing it to follow a set of pre-entered coordinates.

"That way I can do the same flight every time, so it looks the same," Andersen said. "That way I can keep it consistent for the people who are watching."

He'd like to branch into some other services, as well, such as solar panel inspection. That, however, will require an upgrade to a more expensive camera, he said.

He first began operating drones in high school as part of a video class a little more than a year ago. After that, he read an article about how the industry was primed to be one of the fastest growing in the coming years.

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For all the effort he's put into the business, he's also had a few helping hands along the way, one of which came from his grandmother, Barb Ballan, who didn't like the original idea he had had for his business' name. Instead, she advised him to just use his initials and "what you do," which resulted in TJA Drone Services.

He also received some help from his father, Scott Andersen, who gave him a loan for the initial costs after requiring him to map out his plan for the business. Then, he began looking for clients.

"My dad-he literally wanted a whole business plan. He wanted to see how I was going to market to people," Taylor said, acknowledging that the leg work was worth it in the long run. "It made my life easier now because I have a plan for everything I want to do."

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