When he was 17, Mike Korman showed up at a Philadelphia flight school and said he wanted to learn to fly. An instructor told him he needed only two things: money and time. With neither resource in great supply, he had to walk away. “For 30 years I waited,” he says. In his case, waiting included a nearly 25-year career in the U.S. Navy where he was promoted to the level of Master Chief and deployed to Bahrain, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. Korman then spent a decade with Target, eventually as senior construction executive. In March 2015, Korman was laid off from Target, along with what would grow to be 1,700 other Target employees. Within days of that news, Korman says, “I showed up at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie and said, ‘I’d like to learn how to fly.’ When the guy said, ‘You’ll need money and time,’ I was ready.” Now close to receiving his pilot’s license, Korman is also the CEO of a fledgling corporation: veteran-owned, Minneapolis-based Right Stuff Drones. “My goal is to be a thought-leader in commercial drone operation,” he says.
Korman owns two drones, about 18 and 24 inches in diameter, each powered by a lithium ion battery pack and flown with a remote control unit via an iPad. “I was the tech geek at Target,” Korman admits. “I rolled out iPads and iPhones for my construction crews.” When Korman’s wife of 10 years, Caryn, asked what he was going to do next after Target, “I think I took 15 minutes off,” he recalls with a laugh. He knew drones were going to be important in construction, agriculture, property development and life safety industries. “I’ve been immersed in drones since the day I ended with Target.”
With his proactive attitude, Korman has taken advantage of many of the post-layoff opportunities provided by Target (free retraining seminars in collaboration with the University of St. Thomas), the state of Minnesota (a state-funded program called CLIMB designed to assist aspiring entrepreneurs), and an impressive social network formed by ex-Target employees. Korman’s small but efficient Right Stuff Drones business office includes a computer that can receive and analyze drone photographs. Korman’s ambition for the future of drone use in construction is that the photographic data they deliver will spell out which materials are needed on a certain job, how those materials will be delivered, and where they need to be moved to and used on-site. What he envisions is Right Stuff Drones’ ability to minimize construction time and maximize economic resources for any construction project.
What many people don’t know, says Korman, is that commercial drone operators must have a pilot’s license, and the FAA has fined another drone start-up company over $1 million for illegal flight operations. Eventually, he says, the pilot license requirement may change to some kind of operator’s certificate, but Right Stuff Drones will be ahead of that curve. Another way Korman’s business could surpass others is through Korman’s long and accomplished history in the construction industry. It’s what he did in the Navy, including building a hospital in Bahrain. Construction oversight is also what he did at Target, including expanding and remodeling existing Target stores across the country.
In the meantime, as Korman finished up the requirements for his pilot’s license during the first part of 2015, he has been attending and speaking at seminars on drone operations. In October he participated in the TEDxEdina event, a TED talk where he received the billing “Warrior + Executive + Entrepreneur”
Korman loves Edina’s accessibility to big-city amenities and the high quality of life the city provides. “And the state of Minnesota has been amazing,” he adds. “There’s a great climate for entrepreneurship here.”
Mike Korman participated in the TEDxEdina event in October. See his presentation here.