Pulsar chief executive and chief technical officer Mohd Izmir Yamin (pic above) has always been interested in things that fly. When he was nine, he built his first handmade kite out of a newspaper and bits of a penyapu lidi, which is a broom made out of thin, wooden sticks.
That’s why it came as no surprise to anyone who knew him when Izmir opted to study aerospace engineering at the Mara University of Technology (UiTM).
An exemplary student, he received a university sponsorship to attend the Fuel Cell Seminar and Exposition (FCSE) 2009 in Palm Springs, California. There, he built a UAV using a hydrogen fuel cell.
Lighthouse in the universe
Izmir would go on to become an aerospace engineer and work on a fleet of Airbus aircraft. He eventually became inspired to use his technical know-how to solve other problems, namely plantation and geo-survey issues, with aerial remote sensing.
Using RM30,000 (about US$7,500 at current rates) from his savings, he started Pulsar UAV in December 2012. He named the company Pulsar, which stands for ‘Programmable Unmanned Large Surface Area Reconnaissance.’
However, he says that it also symbolically takes after pulsars or pulsating radio stars, rotating neutron stars which emit strong electromagnetic waves and which act as a lighthouse in the universe.
Izmir admits that the business went through some turbulent times in the beginning, especially when it came to technical and finance issues.
The biggest challenge, however, was to fund and sustain talented people while his product was still in development. “Good talent needs to be trained and while training them, we burn cash,” he says.
Talented people are also hard to maintain as they tend to favour jobs overseas. This dampened Pulsar’s progress and led to lost opportunities.
In the end, Izmir managed to get things under control by shrinking his workforce and focusing on commercial jobs.
Despite the difficulties, Izmir says that he never felt like giving up, but others in the company did not share the same sentiment.
“They didn’t fully understand the value that this business could bring,” he says.
Fortunately, his own persistence and self-belief paid off, as Pulsar is now recognised by prestigious organisations around the world.
Fortune and fame
To date, Pulsar’s list of awards is nothing short of amazing. There’s ‘The Most Likely to Succeed Award’ by the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP) and the ‘Superb Award’ by Teraju (a special unit in the Prime Minister’s Department). Pulsar was also a finalist at the Google Lunar X Prize, an inducement prize space competition organised by XPrize, and sponsored by Google.
However, Izmir’s proudest moment came when Pulsar was nominated for the World Technology Award (Space Category) by Fortune and Time in New York City, whose winners include his business idol – entrepreneur Elon Musk, chief executive officer of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX.
On the published write-up, Pulsar’s name appears just a few rows below Musk’s, and though he knew he would not win, Izmir says it was an amazing experience to be the only Malaysian representative and to be nominated for the same award as Musk, one of the most innovative entrepreneurs of our time.
These accolades are certainly impressive and while Izmir is very pleased with what he has achieved, he is already striding forward with new ideas. Currently, he is working on a project called Farming 2.0, which uses drones for precision farming. In addition, he is running a mentoring programme for university students.
Right technology, right moment
Izmir says that he has greatly benefited from solid mentorship, particularly from the CGP.
“The CGP helped me in tremendous ways,” he says. “One of them was to put me on the right track in developing the right business model and to focus on the right technology, at the right moment.”
In addition to the early support he received from the CGP, Izmir successfully obtained a grant from the Cradle Fund, which was a big boost in the development of his prototype.
Izmir says he also learned to focus on providing value and expanding the company from that central focus.
Vision for the future
In next five years, Izmir envisions his company providing industrial-grade drones with customised software and hardware. These can be deployed in plantations nationwide to provide high-value mapping services.
“In 10 years, our drones will serve most of the mining, geo-survey and plantation sectors in major parts of South-East Asia and in 20 years, the equatorial-based nations,” he declares.
His ultimate vision, however, is to have a constellation of Pulsar remote-sensing satellites in space, orbiting the Earth to conduct remote-sensing for both the agricultural and geo-survey industries.
Izmir chose to become an entrepreneur because he wanted to make a change in the world using technology that brings new hope and meaning to people’s lives.
He would recommend entrepreneurship to anyone, provided they have gained industrial experience and taken the time to master the right business tools and knowledge.
Outlining the steps one must take to become a successful entrepreneur, Izmir says the first thing to do is to understand the problem, find a solution, and then evaluate it. Next comes delivering the solution and creating market traction.
“Of course, all of this can be achieved when the person is prepared. Therefore preparedness is the key,” he says.
Izmir encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to invest in knowledge and learn how to apply it for the good of mankind.
“With this mindset in place, a person will never run out of innovative ideas,” he says. “An entrepreneur helps people empower their lives through great products and services. When you or your product is good, the money will follow.
“Therefore, don’t worry about the money. Instead, focus on the value to be delivered. “
Discover Pulsar UAV at www.pulsar-uav.com.
The above is an excerpt from the book Startups to Scaleups published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. DNA will be featuring every entrepreneurial story from the book in a special commercial arrangement.