Sustainable Skylines pulls in $1M to lift off Miami drone advertising startup

By Nancy Dahlberg

We’ve all seen them: Those banner ads flown by single-engine planes over the beach crowd touting nearby bars, the local surf shop or beachy brands. The technique hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years. Today’s antiquated banner-towing operations rely on older airplanes and dangerous flight procedures, and leave behind a sizable carbon footprint.

Sustainable Skylines, an aerial drone advertising and data analytics startup, is out to change that. Today, the Miami-based startup announced a $1 million pre-seed funding round in preparation for a potential summer 2023 launch. Investors include Jeffrey Zajkowski, former Head of Americas of Equity Capital Markets at J.P. Morgan, Drew Katz, CEO of Interstate Outdoor Advertising, Paul Mule, Senior Vice President of Finance at Arcadia, and other angel investors and executives.

Sustainable Skylines uses Vertical Take-Off Technology (VTOL) technology – drones – to safely and cost-effectively tow industry-standard sized banners slower and about 100 feet closer to the audience. The startup solves the historical lack of campaign analytics in aerial advertising by deploying a proprietary analytics platform for ad campaign performance that aggregates real-time geospatial and cellular datasets, coupled with data on the quality of impressions and digital impact metrics.

Sustainable Skylines uses hybrid-electric engine technologies that burn less than three gallons of unleaded fuel for a four-hour flight versus the 30 gallons of leaded aviation fuel for the same flight time by single-engine planes, according to the company.

“Our cutting-edge technology cleans up the category’s carbon footprint while allowing brands to garner measurable insights in an out-of-home category that has been underutilized in the past,” said CEO Jacob Stonecipher, who founded Sustainable Skylines in 2020, and plans to launch service first in Miami Beach before expanding to other parts of Florida and beyond. “We’re not relying on runways or airports, and given that variable costs of fuel are virtually non existent, we’re operating at a much cheaper rate while offering a better service.”

Jacob Stonecipher, founder and CEO of Sustainable Skylines

In an interview with Refresh Miami, Stonecipher said he got the idea for the company sitting on a beach in New Jersey watching the ads fly by. “I actually went and watched how they get a banner into the sky and it’s really archaic. Ever since then I have been working to modernize this banner-towing practice with hybrid large scale drone technologies,” said Stonecipher, previously a senior director at Pitchbook Data in New York.

While the current techniques are antiquated, aerial advertising is a clutter-free form of advertising you just don’t find anywhere else, Stonecipher said – and it works. With the rise of digital advertising, most traditional advertising has been on the decline – except for out of home advertising, which has grown, he said.

Now, the startup is a team of six, including CMO Tim Carlisle, a former senior executive at Publicis where he helped lead Proctor and Gamble’s brand strategy; CFO Brenda Stonecipher, aka his mom, who has held numerous c-suite positions; and Chief Research Officer Paul Donato, formerly with Nielsen. Sustainable Skylines has partnered with VELARY, an aviation technology and engineering company, to exclusively use their drone technology, as well as Mitsubishi Electric for use of their AnyMile drone infrastructure solutions platform. Sustainable Skylines has been working with the FAA on regulatory procedures and approvals since 2021.

National and local brands are already signed on. “It is great to see the early excitement from brands around this innovative new way of sharing advertising messages in a more sustainable way,” said Drew Katz, CEO of Interstate Outdoor Advertising.

Stonecipher moved to Miami from Manhattan last June. “I don’t think that there’s a better place maybe on planet Earth to build a technology company than Miami right now. It’s really exciting to be a part of it and actually be on the ground floor,” he said, adding that he has also found an active aviation community here for drones and UAVs.

The funding will help get his startup off the ground, quite literally. Sustainable Skylines is hiring its first pilot and flight operations staff, as well as business development talent. “[Miami] will always be our core, our headquarters, our home as Sustainable Skylines. But from here, we want to expand.”

A rendering provided by Sustainable Skylines


Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg and email her at [email protected]

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Nancy Dahlberg