As an undergrad, Kofi Asante developed a knack for figuring out how to connect dots without a roadmap to guide him. Being rooted in problem-solving is what landed him at Uber Freight post-grad. The platform, launched in 2017, was created as a hassle-free way to connect shippers with carriers.
During his time at Uber Freight as a strategy and partnerships lead, Asante went on to launch its sister company Power Loop — a technology that allows you to load trailers ahead of time and aims to reduce driver detention time.
With the company also bridging autonomous trucks together with Uber Freight, its operational model is similar to one of the next steps in his journey of working with Elroy Air. As its vice president of strategy & business development, Asante is a Black executive in aerospace.
“[Elroy Air] has been around for five years and around that time they’d been around for maybe a year and a half or two. And they didn’t have any business people yet. It was all engineers. [Charles Hudson] connected me over with [David Merrill] and he and I realized I had essentially built what’s on the ground of what he wanted to build in the sky,” Asante told AfroTech. “So then he asked me to come over and launch the business side and kind of be our first business executive. I’ve been with the company for the last three years since then. At that point, there were maybe 10 people. Now, we have over 50 or 60. [In 2019] we were seed stage. Now, we’ve raised over $50 million. We’ve got investments from Lockheed Martin, it’s a bunch of deals with NASA, Air Force, and a couple of other groups. It’s been a fun ride.”
In January, the company unveiled the Chaparral, a first-of-kind autonomous air cargo system, a press release revealed. According to Asante, one of the primary objectives behind creating the aircraft is that it decouples from infrastructure altogether — resulting in reducing barriers to the connection of delivering goods.
Elroy Air’s new system is a huge stepping stone for helping humanitarian communities, especially under their deal with AYR Logistics.
“I think about it with the things we probably think about all the time that come to your door with e-commerce and any of the companies you can imagine that do express parcel, the UPS and FedEx of the world,” he said. “They’re all moving toward this idea of being able to get you to go from one week to two days and the same day to the same hour delivery. And our system could be a part of that solution. Humanitarian defense, commercial, healthcare, express parcel, e-commerce, all of those are kind of what our system is going to be built to help out with.”
Coming in just a few months after the Chaparral reveal, the startup has teamed up with FedEx. During the partnership, which was three years in the making, the shipping giant “will develop plans to test Elroy Air’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo system within the company’s middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments between sortation locations,” FedEx Newsroom reports.
Elroy Air is built on its commitment to be a disruptor in the logistics industry, and the collaboration will help build upon its groundwork.
The test flights are set to begin in 2023.
Getting More Black Execs In The Room
Leading at the frontline of Elroy Air’s success has been a more than a gratifying experience for Asante, but he would be remiss to not acknowledge the void of the Black community working in aerospace. Although Asante is grateful to be in the space, he aims for it to become normalized for Black execs to be in the room.
“I think my goal as a Black executive and frankly, one of the only ones in the world at an aerospace company is to just continue to open the door and show people that this is possible and that it’s for them. Same as the way my dad and my mom have kind of set that for me with entrepreneurship like it’s for me. I just hope that we can humanize it and they can see someone with braids [like me] and walk into the room without necessarily needing to look like the traditional homogenous older white man from aerospace.”
He continued: “I hope that helps other people know that they can do it too. That’s honestly one of the reasons that I get pretty excited each time that we hit any of our milestones — not necessarily because of just the company we’re building, but because I think as you enter into more places and more boardrooms or in more investor rooms, become an investor or an executive or executive rooms, that you start to humanize a person that looks slightly different than them in a way that maybe makes it easier for the next person to walk in.”