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Manna raises $25m to prepare for big scale-up for drones in 2023

European regulators have given drone companies and investors a roadmap for launch

By Maija Palmer

Manna, the Irish drone delivery company, is preparing for “the big year” in 2023, when European regulations will allow its services to start scaling across the continent.

In anticipation, the company has today raised $25m from investors led by Draper Esprit and including Lukasz Gadowski’s Team Europe in the build up to the big moment.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last month published regulations paving the way for more widespread drone services in two years time, giving investors the confidence to jump into backing companies like Manna.

“We’ve now answered most of the questions around regulations, whether the technology will work and if users will adopt this,” Bobby Healy, Manna founder and CEO told Sifted.

Manna builds and operates a fleet of delivery drones that can deliver groceries, takeaway food and pharmaceuticals to people, covering the last mile of delivery, especially in suburban and semi rural areas.

With super-fast speeds of around 3 minutes per delivery, it has proved popular with users in a trial the company has been running in a small Irish town since last year.

“To the question of whether users will embrace it, the answer is 1,000 times yes.”

“Thirty percent of the population are using the service which is better than most takeaway services. We are seeing people who have used it 20-30 times, ordering regularly,” Healy told Sifted. “To the question of whether users will embrace it, the answer is 1,000 times yes.”

Manna has signed partnerships with major brands and retailers, including JustEat, Samsung, Ben & Jerry’s and Tesco to test out drone delivery. It is also working with a number of small independent coffee shops and retailers, for whom the additional delivery option became crucial during the recent lockdowns.

“For consumer brands like Ben and Jerry’s this could be a way to sell more directly to consumers.”

“What a Tesco or a Samsung will get from the partnership is learning if they can make drone delivery work. But for a local coffee shop it has been transformational, their average order through us is twice their usual order,” said Healy. “And for consumer brands like Ben and Jerry’s this could be a way to sell more directly to consumers.” Unilever has been keen to explore the drone delivery idea for the Ben & Jerry’s brand, and also ran trials in New York last year with another drone operator.

Healy said Manna would use the money from this Series A round to increase the size of the team and run another, bigger trial project. The company was expecting to raise a further, bigger round in 2022, he said, which would allow it to build out the drone fleet to tens of thousands of machines, ahead of the big scale-up push in 2023.

Drone regulations are becoming more permissive in the UK as well, with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority recently approving a trial where UK startup sees.ai will operate delivery drones beyond visual line of sight. This is an important step in allowing drones to fly further afield and paving the way for them to one day fly autonomously. Progressive moves like this are putting Europe ahead of the US in being able to get drone services up and running.

A number of other drone delivery companies are also ramping up development. Germany’s Wingcopter, for example, recently launched a drone that can make three separate deliveries in one flight. The company, which just raised $22m in January is also already eyeing a fresh funding round.

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