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High school entrepreneur hopes drone photography business will take off

Local Grade 12 student Thomas Irwin is among those helped out by the annual Summer Company Program

Sky’s the limit for Thomas Irwin.

The Grade 12 student at St. Mary’s College is developing his own special view on business and success in the city.

It’s a view from above, made possible by his summer business Algoma Aerial View which provides drone photography and video to customers.

The business got off the ground thanks to the province’s Summer Company Program which is administered by the city's Economic Development division.

The program provides grants to students starting a summer business and mentoring through the staff at the city’s Millworks Centre.

This enterprise is more than a teenager simply trying to make a buck using his favourite Christmas toy.

Irwin began his research into the possibility of drone video and photography last fall. He used a $1,500 grant to buy a drone and is now marketing his services on social media and by making some personal contacts with local marketing agencies.

There are some local businesses offering drone services, but a lot of this focuses on surveying and engineering.

“I did the research on upcoming markets and what’s growing right now,” he said.

“There is a lot of new technology that is not being used right now that I wanted to bring to a local level and help local business.”

Irwin says some of the traditional ways of getting images is becoming dated. He said people will often see something that is taken using drone technology and not even realize it.

Though COVID-19 has hit many businesses, Irwin sees some opportunities he can seize.

“Think about restaurant patios. What would be the best way to view a restaurant patio? Through the air. I’ve been reaching out to restaurants to try to avail my services to patio photography.”

Getting thrust into a tough business climate has taught the budding entrepreneur some valuable lessons.

“As things change, I adapted. I’ve been working to do my best and adapt to the market,” he said.

Irwin embraces this ‘roll-with-the-punches attitude’ when it comes to school and his future studies.

He has a lacrosse scholarship to Lawrence Technological University located just 10 minutes out of Detroit. Irwin plans to study computer science at Lawrence. He plays high school hockey for St. Mary’s.

Sports has always been a big thing for Irwin and normally his summer calendar is filled with lacrosse and hockey. COVID put a halt to a lot of that, but at the same time, Irwin said it gave him more time to spend on his business.

Irwin has his drone licence, which is required. He is up to speed on the rules and regulations. There are some no fly zones, but Irwin adds that the he’s pretty lucky in the Sault which is fairly wide open.

The cost of his services depends on what is required.

“No two businesses are the same and no two businesses need the same thing,” he said.

He hopes to keep the business going after the summer months, but his future goals include developing the technology on which he’s now cutting his teeth.

“Today it’s drones, tomorrow it’s the computer science behind drones. This is just my way in,” said Irwin.

He adds that the support of his parents (Martha who works at Sault College and Brady who is at MNR) has been very helpful through these times.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the normal routine of teens heading into their last year of high school and thinking of post-secondary education. In Irwin’s case his schooling future is in Michigan.

Irwin said he’s not losing sleep over it.

“It’s a little tough, but we’ll get through it. We take it day by day. Just listen to the regulations and take care of each other and we’ll make it through.”

Irwin’s Instagram account is aavdronephotography. You can also reach him at (705) 257-6380. His email is tdirwin48@gmail.com.

Keep coming back as we follow up with more stories on the Summer Company Program.

Got another story we should follow up? Drop us a note at news@sootoday.com