Tell us about yourself and your background.

I am currently an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota. I am the youngest of 5, and I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, taking apart essentially everything that broke in the house. I’ve always wanted to be an engineer. In 8th grade I discovered my love for aviation, and a year later my eyes were opened to the endless capabilities of unmanned aircraft.

How did you get started in the drone industry?

Pure imagination. I’m not even sure how I heard about drones in the first place, I just knew they existed and wanted to be part of it. I came to UND for college specifically because it was the only campus with an unmanned aircraft program.  

Tell us about your organization and your role there.

I’m the founder and president of Sunshine Aerial Systems. We strive to improve the lives of underground workers everywhere through the use of autonomous unmanned aircraft. Right now, we’re focusing on sewer inspectors, and have almost finished development of a quadcopter that will fly through sewer tunnels.

Industry Experience:

What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?

There are literally endless possibilities. Every day some new application is being discovered.

What’s your favorite type of project and why?

My favorite types of projects are the new ones, because they’re the projects that have the most things to think about and consider. They’re the projects that bend your brain a little bit trying to figure out how it might work.

Do you have a success story you would like to share?

Is it egotistical to share mine? Three years ago, my company was nothing more than a brief concept of a product. Then a chance conversation led to another, and another, and suddenly I’m the president of a company, and my idea is almost completed. When you follow through and keep going at it, it’s amazing how dreams can actually become reality.

What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?

I am excited for women to prove two things. First, that we are not only capable of running a business, but that we can be better at it. Second, that the current stigma against women is false in this area. I have yet to experience anyone treat me as less capable because of my gender. In fact, they are usually more excited to see a female taking charge and paving the way. (Also, it’s a lot easier to get information, since they trust me more easily.)

What You’ve Learned:

What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?   

I can’t just have a product. I need to make it something people want, and prove to them why I’m the better option.

What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?

Everything I need to know really is just a question away.

Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?

Don’t be afraid to do something just because you don’t know anything about it, or especially because you’re a woman. The resources are out there to learn everything you need to know. And, as long as you hold yourself like an equal, you will be treated as such. Never back down just because they’re more experienced or intimidating. Hold your position, be respectful but firm, and the world will be open to you.


What’s the best way for W&D readers to connect with you?
Elena Parrello,

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