Two students are looking forward to their global aviation business soaring even higher after graduating from Swansea University.
Joe Charman - and his business partner Jack Bengeyfield - have both completed their studies with the School of Management and will now take steps towards growing Pilot Plus, a flight simulation company.
In 2014 and with just £200 to his name, 16-year-old Joe set up Pilot Plus which replicates real-world airports in a digital 3D format geared towards pilot training.
Six years later, Pilot Plus now boasts more than 4,000 customers around the world from Los Angeles to Sydney, with its software being sold to flight schools, commercial pilots and aviation enthusiasts.
“The business was created from my passion for aviation and my drive to create something that others could enjoy,” said Joe, now 21, who hails from Bristol. “Flight simulation is a fantastic tool used for professional pilot training as well as for entertainment by consumers and aspiring pilots.
“There are surprisingly quite a lot of people involved with the development and launch of our products now. Each product, treated as a project, requires several internal developers as well as handful of external testers. We also work with a partner company for product distribution through their global platform as well as industry influencers.”
Jack, 22, joined Pilot Plus a couple of years after its launch and has been integral to the development of the business’ products, including the creation of Gatwick Airport.
Where possible, the team will visit each individual airport to take as many reference pictures as possible. Those images are then collated with further research, such as building plans and environmental data to create the most accurate virtual product.
“The business has been profitable since the beginning,” said Joe. “Most of the project ‘cost’ is from development time and the use of software tools.
“Product revenue exceeds total development and time costs, and this is due to the brand and our strong business network we have built.”
Both Joe and Jack have secured first-class honours and are grateful for the input from Swansea University staff in support of their business.
Joe added: “We have been supported by the University’s Enterprise Team on several occasions, receiving business and financial support from staff as well as Santander.
“While there are a host of schemes available for entrepreneurship, we have always bootstrapped the business, creating products and reinvesting profits for growth without the need to rely on external investors.”
The entrepreneurs are now looking to the future.
“We hope to take the business full-time with dedicated office space,” said Jack. “This will allow us to continue to grow our product range and offerings to consumers.
“We also want to venture into providing commercial services for flight schools and other industries, bringing accurate 3D environments to support a wider range of business use.
“In addition, we intend to maintain a close relationship with Swansea University and possibly provide opportunities for students in the future.”
Meanwhile, the pair both had some sound advice for any students hoping to follow in their footsteps with an idea of their own.
“It can be very challenging starting a business,” said Joe. “It is important to not lose sight of your goal and be smart with the decisions you make. It is also important to focus on the customers and provide a friendly and seamless experience. Start small and keep pushing - you do not always need lots of funding.
Jack added: “Simple ideas are generally the ones which turn into the most successful businesses – taking skills you already have and applying them can be a great starting point as a student.”