Interview

“People underestimate Eastern Europe’s start-ups”

Part car, part plane, Aeromobil needs just a 200-m straightaway to deploy its wings and take off.

Technologist: A flying car – was this a childhood dream?

Juraj Vaculík: Of course! My partner Stefan Klein and I both grew up in Slovakia in the communist era. We couldn’t travel freely, and Stefan dreamt of exploring the world in a flying car. For years he worked in the auto industry, and about 25 years ago he started building a prototype. There was no way I couldn’t help make his dream a reality.

T. How do people react when you describe your project?

J. V. People thought we were nuts. But things started to change in 2013, just after the Aerotech Conference in Montreal, where we unveiled our first completely functional model in full flight. People were amazed. We were no longer just a couple of daft entrepreneurs. We quickly got a lot more respect from the aeronautical industry.

T. How did you get investors to take you seriously?

J. V. First, we put together a team composed of experts from the automotive and aviation industries. Then we convinced some heavy hitters like Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, to serve on our board of advisors. We also set up partnerships with companies and universities.

T. When do you plan to commercialise your flying car?

J. V. We want to sell our first models by 2017. The price will be somewhere between a luxury car and a small airplane, probably several hundred thousand euros. We plan to begin by selling to a niche clientèle: car and airplane enthusiasts. But over the long term, economies of scale should allow us to reduce this price. And I think the increasingly pervasive sharing economy will mean that ultimately everyone will be able to use one, even if they don’t actually have their own.

T. Is being in Eastern Europe an advantage or disadvantage in launching a start-up as ambitious as this?

J. V. Many people underestimate us because of this. But they’re often surprised when they see the quality of our project. The truth is that for Aeromobil, being in Slovakia is a huge advantage. It’s one of the world’s foremost automobile manufacturers. We benefit from this tradition and from an enormous amount of expertise. Even if Americans dominate the innovation market, they don’t have a monopoly. As PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel said: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Today it’s us, the Slovaks, who are making that dream come true.

Juraj Vaculík (CEO of Aeromobil)

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