Toledo Startup Drops Life-Saving Humanitarian Aid from the Sky

Skylife logo and interior of airplane full of boxes of humanitarian aid

SkyLIFE is revolutionizing the way we send important cargo to those in need

When humanitarian aid workers are trying to get supplies to a location that is unstable, unsafe or otherwise unreachable, they don’t have many options. Typically, they end up trying to drop a large pallet with a traditional parachute, hoping it will land safely and won’t endanger anyone on the ground or damage its contents. But a Toledo startup has modernized the process with the potential to save lives. The idea was born in 2010, when Jeff Potter and his team watched the challenges of the humanitarian response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. They thought they could create something better, and founded SkyLIFE Global.

“There was not a sufficient way to immediately deliver supplies,” he said. “Governments were using really old technology, which didn’t work too well. Our engineering firm in Toledo typically works in industrial innovation and plastic processing systems design, creating everything from diaper lines to nano-fiber lines that we’ve developed for Fortune 500 companies. So we went to work on a better way to provide aid, and we came up with the SkyLIFE way and a couple of different technologies.”

A woman unpacks boxes of humanitarian aid

SkyLIFE is working to change conceptions of what can and can’t be aerially delivered, starting with payloads of cooking oil in South Sudan. Photo courtesy of SkyLIFE Global

The company makes two main products. SkyPACK delivers small packages and looks like a piece of paper, but carries cargo that flutters to the ground and can be airdropped safely on top of people. SkyBOX is meant for larger packages and drops out of the sky like a traditional pallet, only to break apart into 50 different pieces with the brand’s trademark orange parachutes. Both have been deployed in Africa and can be used to combat almost any emergency scenario.

“Imagine people are stranded somewhere with no way to get any distribution on the ground,” said Potter. “We believe our technology is the first line of assistance and the new standard of care globally to assist those that need it most: people that simply cannot get deliveries because of some form of obstacle, manmade or natural. It could be a warring faction a few miles away or a natural disaster. We can even deliver what’s been dubbed the “undroppables” by the United Nations, things like vegetable oil in fragile containers. We’ve even dropped fresh eggs with a 100% success rate from 1000 feet at 150 miles an hour.

SkyLIFE is already forging partnerships with U.S. government agencies, the United Nations and the Humanitarian Logistics Association. Last year, the company worked with American troops to train members of the Royal Thai Armed Forces and plan to increase their aid presence in Southeast Asia. For Potter and his team, there’s almost no limit to how much help they can provide, and he said he hopes SkyLIFE’s humanitarian drops can become an integral part of disaster response.

“Right now, the current methodology of responding to a disaster, whether it’s a typhoon or a tsunami or even man-made conflicts like in Yemen or Syria, the first step in all the disaster relief manifestos is to assess the need. What we want to do is add SkyLIFE to that first step as the new standard of care. The basic elements that people need are clear — Band-Aids, food, water, hygiene kits, feminine hygiene kits, baby formula. We know this, and we know that people will self-distribute these items if we can get the supplies in their hands. We want to make SkyLIFE the new standard of care for the first three days.”

SkyLIFE was born from Potter Technology Group, an engineering firm started by Jeff’s father in 1990. That engineering and production background has been crucial to SkyLIFE’s development, and Potter considers that Toledo mindset and capability an important reason for the company’s success.

“We have a long and proud history in Toledo. Our whole family is filled with tool and die makers, engineers and project managers,” he said. “The Toledo area has so many industrial capabilities here that you don’t find in other parts of the country. It’s not just prototyping or tool and die making, it’s anything to support the industry. We’ll be at, say, a conference in Geneva, and people will see the machinery to make SkyLIFE, all the electronics, coding, circuit board layouts. They look at us like, ‘How do you know how to do all that?’ That’s our advantage in being from Toledo — we can do that.”


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