For Zia Drone Operations, The Sky’s the Limit

Three men wearing purple shirts standing holding a drone

When three students met in an unmanned aerial systems class at San Juan College (SJC), little did they know that less than a year later they would be the grand prize winners of a business competition. Josh Bishop, Mark Knight and Wes Bond began talking in class and, before long, their dreams of being drone pilots merged into a business called Zia Drone Operations, LLC. The business was formed in early 2021. 

The Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS)/drone certificate and degree programs are fairly new to San Juan College. Bishop, Knight and Bond were in the first student cohort in the SUAS program.

“I highly recommend the SUAS program at San Juan College to anyone with an interest in drones,” says Bishop. “The instructor is great and helped prepare us for our FAA certification after the first semester. We all passed and were able to fly drones. The more the three of us flew our drones, the more we wanted to learn how to make it into a career.”

Former Students Pursue Business Dream With Hawk Tank

At the suggestion of Eddy Rawlinson, the dean at the San Juan College School of Business, Information Technology and Social Sciences, Bishop, Knight and Bond entered their dream business plan into a “Shark Tank” competition called Hawk Tank presented by Fort Lewis College (FLC) and San Juan College.

“Hawk Tank has provided a truly unique opportunity to come together with a common goal of strengthening our community’s economic development and, most importantly, providing our students with professional guidance, hands-on experience, and mentorship,” says Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass, president of San Juan College.

A total of five high school teams, three recent alumni teams, three SJC student teams, and seven FLC student teams competed in the final round of the competition. The first-place student team for FLC and SJC each earned $5,000 and then competed for an additional $5,000 grand prize. 

After a live round competition on April 24, the winners were announced in a congratulatory video. The three students were elated to discover that their business plan won the SJC track and the overall grand prize. 

“As we prepared for the competition, we spent countless hours working on a business plan for Zia Drone,” says Bishop. “We attended numerous workshops that were offered through Hawk Tank to help us develop and move forward with our business plan. We are so grateful for all the support we received from the SJC Small Business Development Center; our instructor, Brian Seavey; Dean Rawlinson; the SJC Career Center; the Fort Lewis College Hawk Tank team and all of their resources; Rich Fiedman; and San Juan College, as a whole.” 

“Each of us brings different strengths to the business,” says Bond. “We are not only friends, we are now partnering in this business venture that we hope will one day provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ to clients needing drone services.” 

Prize Money Helps Business Growth

For the owners of Zia Drone Operations, LLC, the $10,000 in total prize money will help them to add to their drone inventory, market their business and invest in computers, software and technology. “The drone-flying is fun and it certainly requires skills and experience,” according to Knight. “However, we will spend the majority of our time and energy in front of a computer screen using special drone technology, so that we can produce a quality end-product for our clients.” 

Zia Drone Operations, LLC provides top quality aerial services with a focus on exceptional customer service. “We are super excited to have won this competition,” continues Bond. “We look forward to putting more things in place to grow our business and support the demand of drone needs in our community.”

For more information on Zia Drone Operations, LLC visit ziadroneoperations. com or

“I highly recommend the SUAS program at San Juan College to anyone with an interest in drones. The instructor is great and helped prepare us for our FAA certification after the first semester."

Joshua Bishop
Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS)/drone certificate

Learn more about SUAS Programs