Aerial Entrepreneur

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Drone Contest Winner has Eyes in the Sky, Boots on the Ground

I might be an engineer, but I love a good story about marketing and business. And that’s exactly what I found in Jordan Nelson, the entrepreneurial founder of Nelson Aerial Productions, Inc., winner of C+S Engineer’s second annual Engineering Drone Video of the Year.

The 30-year-old upstart and his compelling video compilation – it features footage from 10 building implosions captured over the course of four years – beat out 60 other entrants. Not bad for a guy who is a self-taught, one-man show with a degree in geography.

In my role as President and CEO of Zweig Group, I talk a lot about elevating the AEC industry, imagining what’s next, hustling for results, and figuring out problems. Nelson embodies all of this. When he was still in his 20s, he found his passion, committed himself to excellence, and made his services viable in the market. Along the way, he solved plenty of problems, envisioned his future, and certainly put in the long, hard hours. He’s now enjoying the rewards he deserves, which include an important recognition from his hometown Boone Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina.

If you know his story, like I do, then you’ll agree it’s pretty amazing. But before I go further, I’ll share a few details about the drone contest itself. From last year to this year, submissions doubled, web traffic tripled, and the quality of the content was elevated. Around 18,000 people voted live for the three finalists this spring at the AUVSI XPONENTIAL Conference in Chicago, with Nelson winning the crown over CATEC and Civiltech Engineering Inc.

Now, back to Nelson. A graduate of Appalachian State University, his background is in science, not videography. But that’s where he’s making his name. He got his start using a GoPro camera to record his snowboarding adventures in the Smoky Mountains. But he soon gravitated to drones and aerial footage, sharing his videos of Boone and the surrounding area on social media.

A contractor was familiar with these videos, which had become quite popular, and when it came time to film the implosion of an old dorm on the App State campus, he gave Nelson a call. The rest is history. Nelson would go onto film a dozen more implosions, effectively building an entirely new business line to go with what he was already doing, video of architecture and golf courses. He has a fleet of drones, and records in either Cinema DNG or Apple ProRes at up to 5.2k resolution. He uses the good stuff.

So, was a little luck involved in Nelson’s transformation from snowboarding guru to an industry-recognized entrepreneur with a dozen implosion videos under his belt? Probably. But the story is more about Nelson’s initiative and drive, his attention to detail, and his ability to make, and own, a decision.

In an interview with C+S, Nelson said he wants to broaden his suite of offerings to include inspections. In an age of growing interest in the holistic lifecycle of buildings and infrastructure, this sounds like a great idea. He even said he’d like to figure out a way to marry his love of video production with his degreed knowledge of geography. Knowing Nelson, he’ll figure out a way to get it done.

The fun thing about all this is that Nelson had never been to Chicago before. Outside of the AUVSI conference, he took time to enjoy the city – deep-dish pizza, a hot dog heaping with “the works,” and one of the world’s great skylines. He made a few new connections but also met with friends he’d only known through social media. Sounds like he had a great road trip, and we were honored to be part of it.

Read Nelson’s story. Share it with your friends and colleagues. He’s elevating the industry, and that’s something that should be celebrated.


Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

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