Watts Innovations: How a hobby soared into a successful business

10/02/2023| Maggie Whitescarver

Watts Innovations: How a hobby soared into a successful business

10/02/2023 | Maggie Whitescarver

Not that long ago, Bobby Watts was a Maryland teenager with an interest in flying remote control (RC) helicopters. It wasn't just a hobby, though, Watts was good...really good at maneuvering the aircraft. So good, he won nationwide contests.

Bobby Watts with a RC helicopter.

Through his hobby, he came into contact with a group of Johns Hopkins University mechanical engineering students, who enlisted him to assist with a graduate-level project. This connection ultimately led to an internship at Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory at the young age of 18. His background with RC helicopters allowed Watts to refine his skill set as well as connect with a robust network of people to help him learn the technology used everyday in the drone industry.

Fast forward 20 years, Watts still has his eyes on the skies, as the CEO of Watts Innovations, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of industrial drones. And what started as a basement-run startup has now developed into a team of about 20 employees, with two locations in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Initially, the company focused on the film and special events industry. Watts Innovations designs and assembles drones to carry expensive cameras to film high-profile events and shows. Some of the star-studded events its drones filmed include: the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Kentucky Derby, NASCAR races, and the latest season of Stranger Things.

Its drones have also been used in other applications, such as wildfire prevention—Watts Innovations’ drones carry out controlled burns, perform preemptive power line monitoring, and conduct land surveying for engineering firms.

The company’s latest and greatest use for its drones has been in delivery services. Watts Innovations signed a large contract with DroneUp, a leading flight services partner, and now Watts Innovations’ drones are being used to deliver items to customers. This partnership has been great for the company, expanding capabilities and boosting business.

Drone flying through the parking lot

With these various applications, Watts notes the importance of tailoring the drone’s design to its use. He explained how the majority of the drone industry still relies on foreign-made drones for financial reasons, however, it is the American companies that have more of the ability to tailor needs for customers. “A big company can’t take requests to tailor to a customer's needs, but a company like ours, with our team’s skill sets, we can tailor to include 4G, LTE, spotlights, and the ability to drop a box,” says Watts.

While Watts is from Maryland, he did spend a brief time in Florida where he started his business, but returned to his Maryland roots about four years ago.

“I don’t think I would have been able to make Watts Innovations to scale in Florida. I needed to find like-minded people and a talented team to create the company.”
— Bobby Watts

He has built a strongly skilled team, where more than half the workforce is local, and the few he recruited from out-of-state have made Maryland their home.

Watts touts the state’s access to BWI, relatively close commutes for all team members, and good flying weather all year round for why Maryland is the right location for his business.

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