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Drone startup selected to join elite space program

<i>KMOV</i><br/>WingXpand founders: James Barbieri and Michelle Madaras.
WingXpand founders: James Barbieri and Michelle Madaras.

By Shoshana Stahl

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — A metro startup has been selected for an elite space accelerator program.

St. Louis company WingXpand was chosen out of 600 international companies to join the “Techstars” program in Los Angeles.

The program focuses on aerospace technology, working in partnership with organizations like the U.S. Space Force and NASA.

Cofounder Michelle Madaras says the company is working with fire departments and police departments, along with other consumers, where a drone would be used in response situations.

“What is in the realm of the possible,” Madaras says. “Let’s really push those limits and design this thing and implement this thing in a way that will unlock new possibilities.”

The drone WingXpand created can fly for two and a half hours, compared to other drones that can fly for about 20 minutes. WingXpand’s drone can also carry more weight, allowing it to use cameras with better technology.

“Not only collect video but do things down to measuring, counting for crops and the health of those crops,” Madaras says.

WingXpand started in April 2022. Cofounder James Barbieri says he recognized a problem in the industry because drones were being transported in inconvenient ways.

The drone WingXpand created expands out of a backpack, with an extendable 7-foot wing.

“It really is the most powerful drone that you can fit in the smallest, easiest-to-use footprint,” Barbieri says.

Barbieri says they are carrying their St. Louis pride with them in Los Angeles and he wants other local entrepreneurs to know that St. Louis is a city full of potential.

“The dreams are possible so if you have an idea, if you’re passionate about building new things, building great things, keep at it and you’ll get there,” Barbieri says. “The main thing is persistence and tenacity.”

Madaras and Barbieri will be in Los Angeles for the program through December.

When they come back to St. Louis, they will continue working on the product and increasing manufacturing to get the drone into the hands of consumers.

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