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40 Under 40 winner of the day: Cameron Donaldson

Business

South Australian inventor Cameron Donaldson developed the first commercially viable way of incorporating solar cells in the structure of electric airplanes.

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Donaldson was this month recognised as a member of InDaily’s 40 Under 40 and won the Inspiring Disruptor Award, presented by OTR.

His technology integrates solar cells into the structure of aircraft wings and unmanned vehicles, solving many of the problems normally associated with attaching solar cells to vehicles – such as increased weight, fragility and cost.

His solar harvesting composites have also been shown to increase the range of drones and unmanned surface vehicles by 200 to 300 per cent.

He co-founded Praxis Aeronautics to commercialise the invention in 2016.

In the same year, the company won the Australian eChallenge for startups in its category – as well as the people’s choice award.

In future, he hopes his company will be able to provide free solar wings to humanitarian organisation to help medical delivery and disaster relief.

The Praxis prototype drone. Supplied image

Donaldson said improvements in battery technology were needed to allow the solar wings to keep a drone in the air around the clock.

“When you get to that whole day of flying stage then the next milestone will be drones that can fly through the night and that requires a huge jump forward in battery tech,” Donaldson told The Lead South Australia earlier this year.

The Praxis wings were initially designed using traditional silicon solar cells but wings using lighter, thinner and more efficient – and more expensive – gallium arsenide cells (GaAs) were developed in 2018.

Praxis took its tech to the United States last year where they met with several drone manufacturers who they are in discussions with about potential partnerships.

Below, he discusses doing business in South Australia.

What is the single most important lesson you have learnt in your business career so far?

The single biggest lesson is how you view failure. To be a failure is part of the process – you learn a lot more from failure than you do from easy success. And some of the best ideas seem crazy at the start.

What do you believe are the strengths of doing business in South Australia?

I think we’re perfectly sized for startups. The cost of doing business here is so much less than in (larger) cities. The cost of living is low, the cost of rent is low and there’s this fantastic startup community is starting to happen.

What do you believe are the weak points of conducting business in South Australia.

A lot of that just is to do with preconceptions. I think that there’s still a kind of negative mentality about South Australia. And (South Australians) can be risk averse.

How can the state encourage more of its young leaders to stay?

A really healthy grants program is a really good start. Tax incentives don’t hep until you’re actually making profit. Some seed money can make all of the difference.

To see the full list of 40 winners, announced last week, go here.

InDaily will be profiling each of the winners over the coming weeks.

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