Case studies, fact sheets and interviews offering hints, tips, and inspiration to help your business grow. 

From 7 May 2024, the North East Growth Hub is a project of the North East Combined Authority. We may still refer to "the North East Local Enterprise Partnership" (or "the North East LEP") in some of our older articles. 

How heliguy used grant funding to help grow and future-proof its business

We spoke to Sam Barnes, Product Development Manager at heliguy, about the company’s ambition to see more of its own designed and manufactured products in the retail market, and more of its revenue coming from internal projects.

Please tell us about your business, heliguy

We’re an industry-leading UK drone specialist and a true one-stop drone shop. We provide expert support to the drone industry including drone training, drone repair, drone rentals and more.

We supply UK drone training accreditations issued from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and have a UK drone repair centre with expert DJI-trained technicians. 

Our heliguy Lab specialises in custom integrations, industrial grade 3D printing and product manufacturing for the drone industry, and we provide counter-UAS solutions through our layered drone defence solution built around DJI AeroScope.

What led you to explore accessing grant funding for your business?

Our Managing Director, Joel Ross, was very keen that we support the future growth of the company by moving from retailing other brands to developing our own products, using all the expertise we’ve gained over the last decade. 

We started looking into funding, grants and other support available for our business, which was fundamentally a retail company moving into the manufacturing world. This was when we first learnt about the Made Smarter Adoption North East programme, which supports manufacturing businesses to invest in smart technology.

Retailing other people’s products could restrict company growth, and that prompted the creation of a new product development team. The three big challenges for us were how do we scale production from a lower level? How do we access different materials that would normally cost us an awful lot of money, and how do we build limited, small run electronics in-house?

How did the Made Smarter programme help you decide on the right approach for your business?

We received support to develop a bespoke digital roadmap for the business, and that identified our best course of action was to invest in a new digital solution. Grants are available through the Made Smarter programme to invest in new smart machinery – so that’s exactly what we did. 

We were awarded £15k to invest in new machinery to help future proof the business, and expand our growing in-house product development team.

What solution did you identify after securing grant funding through the Made Smarter Adoption North East programme?

With grant funding support from Made Smarter Adoption North East, we were able to purchase a more powerful version of an existing 3D printing machine that allows us to use a range of different materials. The new machine also significantly reduces our training requirements as it provides continuity of production. 

We purchased a second machine used for prototyping electronics, allowing us to print circuit boards and place components. For a relatively small outlay, we now have the ability to design a circuit board, print it, get components on it, and test it in days - not months. I can't underestimate how big an impact this will have for us.

We also invested in a desktop five axis CNC machine, which will allow our product development team to work with any kind of material; expanding the possibilities of what heliguy can produce. It's about being at the forefront of everything and trying to stay ahead of that curve. When we design something, we now have the wonderful ability to print a product, and the electronics that go in it, and have it tested by the end of the week.

What have some of the benefits been to the business since securing your grant funding?

There was almost an immediate benefit within weeks of the grant being approved, and that will only stack up over the next year or two. The impact of Made Smarter Adoption North East is not just the output of the business, but the strategy and the direction behind it. And I think the potential for job creation longer term is huge.

As a result of the new machines being installed in the business, tasks that were taking months to complete are now only taking weeks or even days. We’ve also appointed a new electronics engineer to meet growing demand in the business now process times have been significantly reduced.

What does the future hold for heliguy?

In the short to medium term, we’re aiming to have three to four products in the marketplace that are manufactured, designed, produced, tested, and deployed in-house; ensuring more of the company's revenue comes from internal projects. That ambition will likely see the product development team double in size over the next 12 months.

Because of Made Smarter Adoption North East and the grant funding available, we have more confidence moving forward now. Making sure we stay at the forefront of this technological wave is going to be absolutely crucial for us.

Find out more about Made Smarter Adoption North East here

Find out more about grant funding, and other sources of funding and investment available to businesses in the North East, by visiting the Finance and Funding Toolkit.