Just three months into his new job at the helm of PrecisionHawk and CEO Michael Chasen knows he’ll have to overcome a couple hurdles to meet the drone software startup’s fast growth projections.

There’s the need for dozens more talented people, and the brand-building work required to lure them.

Chasen is betting he can accomplish both of those goals at Moogfest, the electronic music, film and creativity festival coming in two weeks to downtown Durham.

PrecisionHawk is one of the headliners of a Wednesday night festival kickoff event called Big Top, a new and improved version of the Triangle’s signature reverse job fair.

In its fifth year, Big Top is transforming into a networking event for both serious and casual jobseekers as well as recruiters from notable local technology startups. Besides hearing companies pitch the crowd on the uniqueness of their workplaces, attendees can browse meetup groups, membership organizations and other startup resources that might help them reach their career goals.

And special to the Big Top at Moogfest, is a partnership with Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which is bringing more than 80 top students from the nation’s 47 historically black colleges and universities to Durham for an annual retreat. The 15 or so startups presenting at the event get exclusive time with those students before Big Top opens to the public.


The event is a good fit for Moogfest, says festival managing partner Kamran Valanejad. The festival tends to be inspirational and thought-provoking, and Big Top offers ways for attendees to put their new ideas to use in local workplaces that welcome and encourage innovation.

“This really makes it more tangible,” Valanejad says. “(Big Top) takes this type of cultural and inspirational innovation spirit that we have in what we do and turns it into how people can apply it really directly into their careers.”

It also achieves one of Moogfest’s goals of bringing together local organizations doing important work and spotlighting them for out-of-towners and those who live in Durham who might not be familiar with the startup community here.

PrecisionHawk is one of those companies that’s kept a low profile locally, even as it racked up national accolades and headlines. It was the first commercial operation to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones outside the line of sight. Its work has drawn the attention of global customers, venture capitalists from around the world, and 150 initial employees, about half of which work at offices in North Raleigh.

Chasen, who co-founded education software pioneer Blackboard, calls his new company an “undiscovered tech gem” in the Triangle and “in one of the hottest industries.” Only since last August have U.S. companies been permitted to fly drones for commercial purposes. PrecisionHawk provides them with software or other drone services to achieve their business goals.

“It’s a chance to get in on the industry at the beginning,” says Chasen, who tells me he was drawn to another chance to build a leading software startup in a nascent industry.

And if that isn’t what lures a talented young developer, there’s also foosball and hallway drone wars, Chasen says.

Chasen is mostly in need of software developers to continue the development of software for flying various types of drones and collecting data during flight for purposes like monitoring agriculture and farming, surveillance during military operations or assessing emergency situations. Other positions include sales, customer support and even senior or C-level strategy.

So far, only PrecisionHawk, Pendo and Precision BioSciences have been announced as Big Top presenters—WordPress and Research Triangle International (RTI) are title sponsors. But Valanejad promises a full lineup at the evening event May 17 at the Cage on the American Tobacco Campus.

“By having Big Top lead into Moogfest, it builds excitement and gives an opportunity for folks interested in becoming a part of the creative and business community in Durham to get their footing just before they go into being inspired to innovate,” he says.