Lindsay Breuler once thought Culinary Arts was her calling but she landed in the middle of North Dakota’s emerging UAV industry
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I am an Ohio native having grown up in the suburbs just south of Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout my adolescence, I bounced around pretty frequently in what I wanted to be when I, “grew up”. But the common threads were animals, education, and food. In high school, I went the non-traditional route and did a vocational program in Culinary Arts on top of my regular high school curriculum. I was very passionate about culinary and competed in several state-wide competitions in both team events and an individual based competition in Garde Manger (Don’t know what that is? I’ll let you look that one up) which I took 1st place in two years in a row. As a result of my success, I received several scholarships to culinary school including a full-ride but in the end, I decided it wasn’t for me.
Right after high school, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life so I ended up in our local community college, Tri-C studying business. This then turned into Veterinary Technician which ultimately resulted in my transfer to The Ohio State University for Animal Sciences. My goal in my transfer was to eventually become a veterinarian but after a few hands on classes, I again realized that it wasn’t the right path for me. However, I stuck with my Animal Sciences major for my B.S. and ended up in a wonderful work-study that led me on a path to the Cooperative Extension Service.
Immediately after the completion of my B.S., I jumped right into a Master’s program in Agricultural Extension Education through a graduate assistantship at Ohio State. This program only further solidified my passion for the extension service through work with underprivileged youth in urban food deserts. However, this is where my path changed course. Upon graduation, my husband was offered a position with Microsoft in Fargo, ND which was far too big of an opportunity to pass up. So, we packed up our things and moved to Fargo with his job secured and an uncertain plan for myself.
I ended up having a very difficult time finding a job and finally resorted to knocking on doors at NDSU to try and find something to do related to my field of study. With luck and persistence I ended up securing an adjunct teaching position in the Animal Science department at NDSU developing their first online equine (horse) course. I spent two semesters at NDSU before I decided that I needed more to do than one class per semester. So, I looked at my skills and started a freelancer grant writing and training business. Over three months I offered three intro to grant writing workshops which each sold out very rapidly and quickly secured several freelance jobs including one with Emerging Prairie. About two months before my husband and I had planned to leave Fargo in 2016, Emerging Prairie by chance had a full-time opening and offered the role to me. I quickly accepted the position and have been with Emerging Prairie for a year and two months now.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
Honestly, by accident. As you can tell from my background, my journey to Fargo and my position was non-traditional to say the least. After starting with Emerging Prairie, I was quickly brought into the planning process for the second annual Drone Focus Conference which happened to be in about 40 days. I fumbled my way through my first conference and quickly learned just how complex the UAS/UAV industry truly is. To be honest, that first year I made due and was only able to absorb very surface level information.
In this year’s conference, I was able to take on a much bigger role moving into the Conference Director position. What does that actually mean? Well basically, I had a part of nearly every single piece of the conference. From speaker curation and sponsors, all the way down to the coffee and snacks. Through numerous calls and lots of research, I was able to learn more deeply and broadly about the UAS/UAV and autonomous vehicles industry. This helped me to better construct the content and experience we wanted to create for the attendees of the conference.
Tell us about your organization and your role there.
Emerging Prairie is an organization that believes in and nurtures the potential of our community. We have made it our mission to celebrate the entrepreneurs, artists, and creators, specifically in the high technology space. Recognition of our community’s potential, development of an environment for social connectivity, and the act of highlighting the risk takers and change-makers is vitally important, as these are the key accelerators of growth and development. Emerging Prairie was founded based upon the following principles in 2013 by a group of Fargo entrepreneurs who wanted to make a difference in the community they call home.
Educate Our City – By bringing ideas to Fargo and challenging the status quo, we can move our community forward. Through events, programs, and using our influence to convene leaders, we are able to move ideas to action.
Infuse the Arts – We create opportunities for the arts/artists to be incorporated into all of our events and programs. We believe artists are the culture creators in a community; culture is what makes people choose to build a life in a city.
Build on Our Brightspots – We are cheerleaders and champions of the people who are doing great things in our community. Working from the idea of “a rising tide lifts all boats,” we celebrate those we are making progress and positively impacting our community.
Practice Radical Inclusivity – As the fabric, our community becomes richer, we need to create an environment to welcome people from a variety of backgrounds, faith traditions, lifestyles, etc. We do this through actions such as participating in Welcoming Week, celebrating New American Entrepreneurs, providing gender neutral restrooms at events, and offering vegan food at our events.
Our mission is to connect and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo-Moorhead. We do so by operating a wide variety of events and initiatives, such as Drone Focus, the Prairie Den coworking space and 1 Million Cups (1MC) Fargo, the largest and most active 1 Million Cups program in the country. We also operate an online publication that highlights the region’s entrepreneurs and innovators that are turning Fargo into a flourishing tech hub. In March of 2016 Emerging Prairie became a 501(c)3 non-profit to further support our mission.
At Emerging Prairie, I serve in the role of Conference Director and Development Associate. As such, I am responsible for leading the planning and execution for Drone Focus Conference and Cart Summit as well as a large variety of other events throughout the year. Emerging Prairie on average holds about 100 events per year. In addition to my Conference Director role, I also serve as the organizations grant writer and aid in the fundraising processes throughout the year. This includes fundraising events, corporate giving, individual giving, and more. As a small team of five, the roles and duties within the organization are often multi-faceted to allow us to move quickly, efficiently, and provide world-class experiences.
What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?
The speed! It’s amazing how quickly the technology and innovations in the UAV industry can go from concept to reality. This is by far one of the most fast paced industries I have ever been involved with and I love that I am constantly learning something new.
You recently wrapped up Drone Focus 2017 in Fargo. Tell us about Drone Focus, its purpose and goal.
Drone Focus originally started as a small meet-up group to help support the UAS and UAV entrepreneurs in our community. With the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks and an ecosystem primed for innovation, there were numerous UAS/UAV startups being created. From the meetup, we were challenged by our partners at the Fargo Jet Center and the North Dakota Department of Commerce to host a conference on drones in 2015. The only catch was we had 30 days to pull it off before our venue, a newly constructed Jet Hanger, would need to be available for business use. So, in traditional Emerging Prairie style, we accepted the challenge and held the first Drone Focus conference on June 3, 2015 for about 140 attendees.
Since the first conference in 2015, Drone Focus has continued to expand and evolve to meet the needs of our region and the industry. 2016 brought together over 330 attendees to hear from 25 speakers in a non-traditional format more styled after TED talks. This allowed us to build a conference that serves as a platform for the visionaries and innovators in the industry.
There are several UAS conferences. What makes Drone Focus a unique UAS conference?
Drone Focus is unique in that we (the organizers) don’t try to be the experts of the industry. We know that where we excel is in the experience and design of an event and by strategically partnering with industry leaders we can create an experience that is unlike any other UAS conference. Our goal is to create a conference that serves as a platform for others and provides high-energy, unique experiences that allow the attendee to connect directly with one another. We specifically design our conference so that the audience is not going to be talked at for hours on end but rather is able to hear short, concise visionary ideas that leave them inspired to engage in conversation with one another.
As a startup, we are able to run and design Drone Focus in a way that if we were the attendee, we would be engaged. Our design and formatting is focused on creating a world-class experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Since we are competing with cities like Las Vegas, Orlando, and Austin, we can’t win if we try to draw people in with local attractions. Fargo doesn’t have the most casinos or the best BBQ but instead, we can win on the weird, interesting, and thoughtful design of our conference experience.
The drone industry is rapidly evolving. What are your primary challenges in planning a drone conference to be relevant in an emerging industry?
Knowing what’s around the corner. As the Conference Director and Development Associate at Emerging Prairie, Drone Focus is only a percentage of my role. I also help with 100 other events throughout the year and do fundraising. Where we have challenges in keeping up with what’s new and upcoming but we do have something up our sleeve for 2018 to help fix that.
Drone Focus 2017 included celebration of the first Autonomous Vehicle Day. How do you plan to build upon the excitement for Drone Focus 2018?
Each year, after the conference we complete a post-mortem to decide honestly if we will continue doing the event again. We never assume that the answer is yes but rather look at all the factors in the community and within the organization to make that decision. Luckily, we have decided that Drone Focus will continue in 2018. We already have a bunch of ideas for next year including a potential invitation to the Vice President, Virtual Reality exhibits, and perhaps if we can get all the approvals, hands-on attendee drone demos and races. Every year we put all of our chips back in and bet it big, so stay in touch because you never know what we will come up with next.
What was your favorite part of Drone Focus 2017?
Hard to say. Since I organized most all of it, I am a bit attached. However, I was able to experience the opening video/cinematic art piece of the conference and it gave me goosebumps. I am grateful for the partnership we have with our production team, Livewire, as I can give them a snippet of an idea and they are able to make my dreams become reality.
What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?
The sky is literally the limit. As our culture continues to grow and progress, I am seeing less and less limitations and barriers for women to get into what would have been known as non-traditional industries for women. As long as you put the effort in and are determined to work hard, the UAS/UAV industry is very welcoming to women.
From your perspective what makes a presentation or exhibit stand out (successful) at an event like Drone Focus?
The most memorable presentations and exhibits almost always are more interactive and natural. Think about it like this, if you were having a one-on-one conversation with someone how would you talk or interact with them? It would be more personable, less stiff and typically more engaging. This personable, natural presentation style encourages attendees to further engage and follow-up after the presentation.
Do you have any advice for someone planning a presentation or exhibit at a conference such as Drone Focus?
Be confident in your opinions and ideas. If you don’t truly feel confident in the topic you are presenting it shows in your presentation. Practice what you want to say with someone that knows little to nothing about the topic to make sure most of the audience will understand your meaning. Lastly, have fun with it! What’s the point of working in an industry if you can’t have a little fun.
While planning and executing Drone Focus, were there categories (areas, sectors) where you saw a great deal or very little participation by women?
In my research, there was definitely a trend of more women in business and pilot side of the UAS industry. It was much more difficult to find the female engineers, technicians, and military that were available to participate.
What You’ve Learned:
What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment in planning the Drone Focus conference?
North Dakota is uniquely positioned in the UAS industry. Due to the Northern Plains UAS test site, UAS and unmanned systems friendly policies, and a supportive community, North Dakota has an unfair advantage within the industry. Last year, I wasn’t able to truly experience this as I was just trying to survive and learn my role but this year, that fact truly clicked for me.
What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?
This year, it was learning about the audience. The way that we plan our events is unique especially in the snacks and coffee we serve as well as the way we communicate. What I discovered this year was we were serving an audience that we were not familiar with and using techniques that weren’t ideal. So, next year we have already planned some changes to better serve our audience.
Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?
It doesn’t matter what you originally set out to do or studied in college, as long as you put the effort in and believe in your own abilities, we are able to evolve to whatever life brings our way.
What’s the best for W&D readers to connect with you?
The Final Word:
Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?
Guilty confession: as of yet, I still have not actually flown a drone but I hope to fix that very soon.