2018 SXSW Pitch Winner: DroneSeed

The Forrest Four-Cast: October 4, 2018

Hugh Forrest
6 min readOct 4, 2018


Some of the world’s most innovative startups are showcased at SXSW Pitch, formerly known as SXSW Accelerator.

If your startup wants to be involved in the 2019 competition, then click here for entry information. But don’t delay on getting involved, because the final entry deadline for SXSW Pitch is Thursday, November 15.

Entrepreneurs, founders, funders, investors and other related professionals will also want to attend these two tracks of programming at SXSW 2019: “Entrepreneurship & Startups” (scheduled March 8–12) and “Tech Industry & Enterprise” (scheduled March 8–13).

Today we catch up with DroneSeed, the company which won the Enterprise and Smart Data category at SXSW Pitch 2018. Other interviews in this series include Polyport, Vochlea Music, and ARwall.

Grant Canary, the CEO of this Seattle-based startup answered questions for this interview. Grant is pictured above (left side of room) along with DroneSeed CTO Ben Reilly (right side of room).

Also, click here to read DroneSeed’s pre-SXSW interview from last February.

Plus read this TechCrunch story on DroneSeed from November 2018.

What are some of the most significant developments for DroneSeed since March 2018, when you won the Enterprise and Smart Data Category at SXSW Pitch?

We’ve put drone swarms into operation. They operate autonomously from takeoff to touchdown. We’ve fulfilled contracts with three of the five largest timber companies in the U.S. using these swarms.

Additionally, now that we have invasive weed control operational, we’ve rolled out our planting technology. We have four types of seed-delivery vessels for different ecosystems in forests and rangelands.

This summer, forest fires have been devastating the West Coast in particular. Is there any role for DroneSeed to play in addressing this crisis?

Absolutely. DroneSeed’s planting technology is ready for post-wildfire planting and soil stabilization. We’ve received and accepted two inbound requests to participate in projects — one in Colorado for a 150,000 acre Ponderosa Pine forest. We have bandwidth for two more post-fire projects in 2019 and are accepting proposals.

In particular, we are looking for proposals from sponsors of pay-for-performance contracts. We use a two phase model. We first seed a small area with native seeds to prove survival metrics in the ecosystem. Eco-systems differ! Once that milestone is hit, the second phase of the contract kicks in and we expand to 1000+ acres or more.

What kind of opportunities did winning the Enterprise and Smart Data Category at SXSW Pitch open up for DroneSeed?

One of the best meetings we had happened at Capital Factory with an aerospace company and was facilitated by our pitch coach assigned by SXSW.

Could you name your most memorable moment at SXSW 2018?

I have two. SXSW 2018 was that good!

First, standing in line for the real life WestWorld for eight hours on the last day and getting to go. To the credit of the producers, they basically told the West World staff, “We don’t care if you have to drive the people who have been waiting all day yourself, get them to the Sweetwater set.” As the last group on the last day, we got to ride back on the bus with the cast and ask how it all went from cast perspective.

Second, running around with a giant novelty check after winning our category, with a cowboy hat from Westworld, like a kid at a carnival. Definitely the best way to meet people at SXSW. Definitely the most ridiculous way to miss your flight back (hence the literal running with a super not aerodynamically sized novelty check).

What was most surprising/inspiring thing you learned or saw at SXSW 2018?

Seeing Elon Musk be a human and sing (horribly) a duet backed by guitar. Seeing someone be human beyond the hype (and after a serious presentation) was priceless. He’s STILL a personal hero despite questionable recent decisions. Current criticism IMHO fails to take a larger perspective on the problems he and his teams have already made a dent in, how hard those problems are, and how much they really matter to humanity over the long term. Seeing him in person pulls him off a pedestal and reminds one that he’s human — and fallible — and that his thinking and approach is evolving just as ours is. I think that experience is transferrable to all the heroes big and small that SXSW attracts.

Could you name a favorite panel/event of SXSW 2018?

I am a huge fan of the panel on prosthetics with Aimee Mullins. I met a number of people in the audience with prosthetics and got to learn a lot about the realities of a technology I’m excited about.

The Ernest Cline Ready Player One author interview was also delightfully funny. Cline is a master in speaking geek. I also loved seeing and playing in the VR event Ready Player One hosted.

Do you have any advice for applicants to the 2019 SXSW Pitch contest?

Use short 10–30 second videos or animated GIFs in your deck. If a picture is worth 1000 words, how many words is a video worth? Show don’t tell.

DroneSeed started using videos in 2015 as few people in the startup world knew anything about timber and reforestation. It took a ton of time to explain using words. However, video could accomplish this task in seconds. Look at the terrain! Look at how manual the reforesting process is! Look at that drone go! Seeing is believing.

For other startups however, there’s no reason your app demo can’t show UX in a 6–10s video. Your audience will appreciate it and understand better. Harry Potter movies have moving newspapers because they’re more compelling. All the major news outlets want video to accompany a print article. I can’t understand why so few decks don’t use short videos. Its weird that tech startups aren’t using technology that’s old. I can only guess that coaches are still afraid of using video because of file size and a potential crash of the presentation. These issues are easily managed with a slight bit of extra effort.

How about suggestions for the Pitch finalists on how best to showcase their startup?

Have a screen and a video at the booth. People are attracted to the video and you can then explain it live. It leads to a conversation.

Do you have any other advice for attendees looking to make the most of SXSW 2019?

Research what all the events are for the first weekend before arriving. Find out what you can about the rumors of surprises etc. It’s a huge blitz and you need a game plan.

Aside from what you are working on at DroneSeed, what new tech industry trend / development in technology are you most excited about?

Satellite tech to circumvent phone companies and restore net neutrality. We literally have to mail hard drives from rural regions because rural communities are so underserved by phone and cable companies. In many places its several hours drive to get to a place to upload a few gb of data.

What should we expect to see from DroneSeed over the rest of 2018 and the first part of 2019?

First, look for some major announcements in the regulatory space. Stay tuned in the coming weeks.

Second, we will be doing some major post wildfire planting! Not just press, but actual agreements to do large projects.

This is important because increasingly forests aren’t re-establishing themselves (source). The public remembers their basic bio classes and that forests are supposed to re-establish themselves. In some cases that happens. However, because of increasing droughts and US fire policy, we’re seeing fires with such intensity and severity due to stored fuel that the nutrients and the seed bank in the soils are being torched. Those seeds that aren’t torched have to try and survive in post fire soil and moisture conditions that are increasingly killing them.

DroneSeed is working on scaling to meet that need with technology. We’re using drone swarms to deliver to microsites (good soil locations) as well as our four seed vessels which aide soil conditions.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.

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Hugh Forrest

Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.