Raymond B. Leavitt IV is an aviation enthusiast and technology entrepreneur who set out to revolutionize private regional air travel upon returning to Business School at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) from a 2005 Summer Internship with Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. Leavitt became a student of the air charter industry while coordinating private flights for Blue Star Jets, and simultaneously spending time at FAU developing business plans for EvoLux Transportation’s per-seat on-demand helicopter reservation platform.
Leavitt's love for aviation started at an early age. "My parents would tell me that as a baby, anytime I spotted an aircraft in the sky I’d point at it and yell “da plan...da plan!”, but it wasn’t until I was in college at FAU that I really took a strong interest in aviation," he said. "Being right next to the Boca Raton Airport, I became fascinated with private aviation. I also became obsessed with the idea of flying cars, or more realistically “roadable-aircraft”, after sitting on I-95 for an hour to go 2 exits and wanted to help pave the path for this mode of transport."
In 2006, Leavitt became a Technology Business Incubator tenant in the Research Park at FAU and founded EvoLux Transportation, LLC in March of 2007. Between 2007-2009 Leavitt worked alongside computer science and aerospace engineers from Georgia Tech, Boeing, Embry-Riddle, and FAU, assimilating data and understanding from multiple aerospace research projects to create the NextGeneration Non-Interfering Vertiport Operating System (NG-NIVOS).
Through this research, Leavitt discovered that while the highly underutilized helicopter charter industry faced plenty of issues and challenges, this plan to digitize availability of regional fleets, partner with helicopter friendly destinations and make helicopter charter easier to access, was a feasible alternative mode of transport for travelers in congested regions and was an exciting and viable business opportunity in a very under-serviced niche.
Around this time is when Leavitt shifted away from infrastructure research grant writing and began software development of EvoLux’s first consumer facing helicopter reservation prototype, which first went live in August of 2011. In parallel to incubating EvoLux, Leavitt consulted for the air-taxi startup DayJet Technologies and served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Program Manager for the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida, assisting 15 technology business startups a year with business planning, product development, go-to-market strategies and investor pitch coaching. Additionally, Leavitt helped to cultivate South Florida’s start-up ecosystem by hosting Startup Weekends, technology meet-ups and connecting university with industry. He also served on multiple industry advisory boards, as well as supported the New World Angels with deal flow and due diligence efforts on new investment opportunities.
"Anytime I get the opportunity to wrap my mind around a new technology, innovative business concept, or an existing business in a different space than my own, it re-energizes me and gets my creative juices flowing," he said. "Strategizing product / service models and market fits as well as creative and alternative ways to get a product/service to market are by far my favorite entrepreneurial exercises. As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Program Manager for the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida, I loved applying my business know how to different applications and industry sectors. I truly enjoyed collaborating with Universities and Research Institutes, economic development organizations, and technology entrepreneurs to foster a fertile ecosystem for entrepreneurship in Florida, which has evolved tremendously since I left in December of 2012."
For Leavitt, leading the charge and creating an innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida is just as important as the work he's doing with EvoLux. "Something that stuck with me in business school was that the average billionaire had 8-10 different revenue streams, and the 3 paths to achieving that status were through Wall Street, real estate, and entrepreneurship," he said. "When I got started down my entrepreneurial path, there wasn’t as much interest or excitement around tech entrepreneurship in South Florida as there was in Silicon Valley or even New York City, nor many resources available for technology entrepreneurs, yet there were pockets of innovation occurring and a very promising network technology enthusiasts coalescing. I was fortunate to meet Scott Ellington who ran the Research Park at FAU and Jane Teague, executive director of the Enterprise Development Corp who employed me part-time as Programs Manager while I incubated and got EvoLux off the ground. I’m so proud to see how far the South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem has come since those early days."
In 2013, Leavitt and his EvoLux team won Sikorsky Innovations' Global Entrepreneurial Challenge for their FAA Part-135 compliant approach to combining social networks, the shared economy and self-aggregation principles to allow for per-seat on demand air charter. This temporarily moved the company from Boca Raton to the Stamford Innovation Center in Connecticut, where the team worked alongside Sikorsky Innovations for a few years. Since then, the EvoLux App has expanded to 10 major US regions nationwide. It's the official helicopter reservation system for Vertiport Chicago and is averaging 3 flight reservations a day with approximately 250 helicopters and 120 fixed wing aircraft in the US charter marketplace. Leavitt has since returned to reside in Ft. Lauderdale, where he spends weekends with his 6 year old daughter and continues to work with his team to grow EvoLux Transportation.
What advice does Leavitt has for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Start small," he said. "The goal is to generate revenue as soon as possible and grow / evolve organically, not to raise investment right away." In terms of business and entrepreneurship related books, Leavitt recommends "the usual suspects", Zero to One, Art of the Start, Venture Deals, Crossing the Chasm, Startup CEO, The Lean Startup.
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