Imagine using an app to book a flight to a destination hundreds of miles away on a small electric business jet that is safe, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and affordable. The plane departs from the municipal airport just a few miles from your home. Equipped with video conferencing capabilities, you can participate in a Zoom meeting with your colleagues en route to your destination.
This vision may still be some years away.
But with the support of the Cal State Fullerton Startup Incubator and Center for Entrepreneurship, serial entrepreneurs Ayisha Fareed and Nick Panhwar are moving this future closer to reality. Fareed is an AI expert and Panhwar is an engineer and marketer, and they are applying this wide range of knowledge to their latest innovation.
This fall, they plan to test ElectroBird, a two-seater luxury electric plane developed by their company Panhwar Jet, on a 2,000-mile maiden voyage through the Southwest United States. They aim to set world records for the fastest electric airplane in the world, longest continuous flight by an electric airplane and longest zero-emission airplane flight, among other benchmarks. The voyage is just the first step in the planned development of a fleet of six- and eight-passenger luxury business jets designed to revolutionize personal air travel, making aviation accessible and sustainable.
On Aug. 20, the founders, who are based in Newport Beach, signed a lease for a Heber City, Utah, manufacturing plant, where their planes will be mass produced.
With 60% less manufacturing time and operating cost and 70% to 75% lower maintenance costs, Panhwar sees his electric airplanes as a game-changer in the world of aviation.
“Electric airplanes have never exceeded two hours of flight. But we are going to fly for five hours at a speed of over 300 miles per hour,” he says. “We see our planes serving cargo needs. And we believe our technology could allow for jets that seat as many as 20 passengers.”
Unlike other electric aircraft that utilize expensive and cumbersome batteries in regular need of recharge, thus limiting long-distance flying abilities due the density of the battery, the jets will utilize smaller batteries. The batteries are charged by the patent pending Panhwar Jet technology which converts wind energy into electric power without increasing the drag of the airplane.
One Business Success Sets the Stage for Another
The couple first connected with the Cal State Fullerton Startup Incubator as they sought to develop TeamKnit, a software company.
With the proceeds from this successful business, the couple shopped for a personal aircraft and discovered the high cost of operating an airplane.
“When you fly a six-passenger plane, it costs between $1,000 and $1,500 per hour,” says Panhwar. “If you fly an electric jet, it only costs $25 per hour. We thought we should have a plane that is zero emissions, and that a common, ordinary person who can afford an SUV can afford a plane as well.”
The couple studied the opportunities and challenges in the existing electric airplane space and capitalized on the resources and mentoring available through the CSUF entrepreneurship program to fine-tune their plan.
“They told us how to raise money and how to do the pitches. We learned the basics from [Center for Entrepreneurship Director] John Bradley Jackson. And we continue to learn from him even though we have graduated from the incubator,” says Panhwar.
Today, Panhwar and Fareed are planning their maiden voyage and the media attention surrounding it, as well as going public with their company within eighteen months.
Already, airlines have contacted the founders, expressing interest in the jets as auxiliaries to their existing fleet of jumbo jets.
Jackson recognizes the founders’ aerospace startup as evidence of the scalability of entrepreneurial talent developed at Cal State Fullerton.
“One of the beauties of entrepreneurship is once you figure out how to create revenue and make decisions, you can do it again,” says Jackson. “Entrepreneurship in its own way is scalable.”
Getting Off the Ground With Your Concept
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Panhwar encourages aspiring innovators to not get discouraged, regardless of what others may say.
“Whatever you think, you can do it. You are the only person who knows you can do it. Don’t listen to other people if they try to put you down,” he says. “At one time, I was told I was a complete idiot. But take those things as motivation and try your best. You are the one with the idea. Others haven’t done it, so they think it’s impossible. But if you think it’s possible, never give up on your dreams.”
Jackson concurs, and recognizes persistence as an overarching characteristic of successful startups.
“Every day, there are reasons to give up. Nick and Ayisha just plowed ahead and if there was negative feedback, they kept going. That persistence is overwhelmingly important,” says Jackson. “And Nick and Ayisha are solving a real problem that impacts many people. That problem, when solved, will be scalable. A lot of people think starting a company is building products. It is, but what good is it unless you have a customer who really needs what you offer?
“Another characteristic Ayisha and Nick have is coachability. They listen, are willing to accept feedback and criticism, and then move forward. And then it’s up to the new venture to go do it. They are the ones taking the risk, and they are the ones who should get the reward.”
For More on Entrepreneurship
The Cal State Fullerton Center for Entrepreneurship supports academic programs emphasizing how to start your own business, as well as consulting for concepts developed in the Titan family and the broader Southern California business community through the CSUF Startup Incubator.