2022 WA Award
The 2022 WA Pearcey Entrepreneur Award recipient is Mahmood Hussein, Founder and CEO Global Drone Solutions (GDS). The Pearcey Award was part of the 31st WAITTA Incite Awards on Friday 12 August 2022.
Mahmood founded GDS in 2016 as a drone pilot training organisation. Since then, GDS has been a key organisation facilitating drone technology, having trained over 2500 pilots across many industries. GDS's many customers include BHP, Rio Tinto, Newmont, Newcrest, Woodside, Ausdrill, WA Water Corporation and the Department of Education.
Along the way, Mahmood has become a WA authority on drones, being a regular speaker and commentator. He is also freely gives his time to school programs to enthuse young people about careers in technology, as well as being involved in many charitable organisations.
Bob Cross, Chief Judge of WAITTA Incite Awards, commented:
Mahmood Hussein was selected as the 2022 Pearcey Entrepreneur winner for Western Australia because we felt that he has:
- Taken a risk: he started Global Drone Solutions by funding the startup personally with help from family and friends, in an industry that was still developing approval processes;
- Made a difference: built a successful drone training business with the biggest names in mining and oil & gas as customers; expanded into terrestrial and subsea robots; and is established as the media’s ‘drone guru’;
- Is an inspiration: developed programs for primary schools, secondary schools, TAFE and a university; worked pro bono on using drones for reforestation; and partnered with WeRobotics to tackle inequality, social injustice and unsustainable development.
We believe that Mahmood is a worthy winner.
From humble beginnings in Pakistan, Mahmood moved as a child to the UK, and obtained degrees in mechanical engineering, management, and marketing. In his early career, he was highly successful growing business opportunities and building distribution networks, particularly in Asia Pacific. In 1999, Mahmood moved to Australia where he held several senior executive positions in mining, automotive and manufacturing industries.
Around 2015, Mahmood started researching opportunities in drones. The use of drone technology had been pioneered in the military; however, Mahmood foresaw a much wider use of drone technology for monitoring, mapping, safety, logistics etc in industries such as mining, agriculture, security, transport, entertainment and more. In particular, he realised that the sector would not develop without skilled operators and fully-qualified, well-trained drone pilots.
In 2016, Mahmood founded Global Drone Solutions (GDS) as a drone pilot training academy. At that time, there were many risks. The drone industry was in its infancy and changing rapidly as new technology became available. The training material had to cutting-edge and there were significant regulatory approvals to be obtained from Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), who themselves were still formulating policy.
When GDS commenced trading, all training was delivered face-to-face. As training gained traction, Mahmood realised the way to scale would be through online training courses. This would provide an opportunity for trainees to study the theory component, which usually takes four days face-to-face, in their own time. This is of great benefit for those living in a remote location, or who cannot make the time commitment to the full five-day training course in person. Developing the online material consumed considerable time and finances, with no assurance that it would be accepted by CASA or the market. However, the risk paid off and it has been highly successful, even allowing GDS to double its turnover during the initial impact of the COVID pandemic.
In late 2021 GDS won a large WA Government tender to develop training material for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) process operators. To rise to the challenge, GDS began work on developing a training metaverse, a unique 3-D virtual world, where students enter the metaverse using virtual reality headsets. In the virtual world the trainee will be immersed in a digital twin of their future work environment where they can safely interact with pieces of equipment and familiarise themselves before they get to site. The trainer will be able to guide them through any process and explain the right techniques for conducting work, isolations, hazards, dealing with simulated emergencies and even pull components apart to explain how equipment works.
Today, GDS continues to grow, with customers covering state government departments, local government authorities, emergency services, mining and oil & gas companies. To further this development, GDS has recently broadened the range of training to include terrestrial and sub-sea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that can collect, analyse, and share asset condition and monitoring insights. GDS has produced a free eBook with over 500 drone applications, across 30 different industries in, what has become, a $100 billion industry worldwide.
Mahmood and GDS give generously to the community. In education, GDS has developed a number of programs for young people aspiring to a career in ICT. School programs are particularly beneficial in reaching girls at an early age and introducing them to the possibilities of careers in drones and robotics, areas which have been typically male dominated. For primary schools there is free advice and lesson plans. For high-school students there is a fee-paying program that delivers the Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot) AVI 30419 . For TAFE, the training material has been licenced allowing TAFE to deliver the Certificate III training.
Mahmood is a board member of Lord of the Trees giving his time pro bono to ensure compliant drone operations on the organisation’s reforestation projects which are currently located in Western Australia and Saudi Arabia. The organisation has developed a mass tree-planting method that uses drones to mimic the way nature distributes seeds. Not only does this make it cost effective and quick to plant large numbers of trees in difficult and inaccessible areas, like mountainsides and after disasters, but the success rate is much higher than what is achieved by manual planting.
GDS has a partnership with the global humanitarian group WeRobotics. WeRobotics uses technology to help tackle global issues such as inequality, social injustice and unsustainable development. GDS donates the use of its online training program to train drone pilots who will achieve change in countries around the world. WeRobotics operates in 30 countries, and so far, GDS has trained pilots for projects in Africa, Latin America, the Indian Sub-Continent, Asia and the Pacific region.
Mahmood is very much an entrepreneur, and enjoys exploring new business opportunities and finding new ways that drone technology can bring benefits to the broader community. When asked about retirement, he smiles and says he enjoys what he's doing!