Case Studies Saildrone

Meeting climate challenges with ocean drones

About Saildrone

SVB is excited to share this success story for Saildrone, Inc., the world leader in providing comprehensive turnkey data solutions for maritime security, ocean mapping, and science data using its fleet of wind and solar-powered ocean drones.

The bold idea

Richard Jenkins grew up near the seaport city of Southampton, England, where at age 17, he took a part-time job building racing boats. After completing a mechanical engineering degree, he used his education and nautical expertise to advance his quest to build the world’s fastest land-sailing yacht.

After setting the wind-powered land speed record in 2009, Richard applied the same wing technology toward his next goal: developing unmanned sailing drones to accurately measure climate quality data from Earth’s most remote oceans and deliver that data to scientists around the world.

Among the friends he had made along the way were Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, who shared Richard’s passion for ocean exploration. In 2012, they provided the grants that formed the company’s seed round through The Schmidt Family Foundation, and Saildrone was born.

Saildrone’s vision is for a healthy ocean and a safe, sustainable planet. Its revolutionary technology — wind and solar-powered uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) — collects data above and below the ocean surface. Saildrone USVs provide intelligence and insight into subjects ranging from maritime security and seafloor mapping to earth system processes such as weather forecasting, carbon cycling, sustainable fisheries management and climate change. The data collected is helping industries and governments make better decisions to solve significant challenges. Saildrone USVs are sailing into uncharted territory, traveling where humans cannot while reducing the cost and carbon footprint of ocean exploration.


SVB’s commitment to funding innovation is what sets them apart from other banks. They were flexible, supportive, and huge fans of our big ideas. Whether coming up with innovative credit lines, providing guidance on new account structures, helping with Treasury investments through hectic markets, or making connections to potential partners or investors, SVB has been one of our strongest allies.

Richard Jenkins

Founder & CEO, Saildrone, Inc

The partnership

The young company quickly acquired additional backers, including Lux Capital and Social Capital, whose close relationships with SVB led to a banking partnership for Saildrone when it launched its Series A funding round in 2016.

The solution

SVB recognized the technical and financial innovations required for this capital-intensive company to succeed. The bank supported the company with tailored solutions at different stages of growth, including:

  • 2017: $3 million venture debt loan
  • 2019: $20 million equipment term loan
  • 2021: $20.6 million for equipment loans and hardware-as-a-service lending to finance new projects for secured contracts

Taking a relationship-based approach, SVB and Saildrone developed a strong relationship built on trust and mutual passion for the frontier tech space. As time progressed, the relationship deepened, with SVB providing not only banking and investment management solutions but also introductions to prospective partners, investors, partners and industry experts. Today, the company’s serial CFO, Barak Ben-Gal, is a board member of SVB Advantage, where he not only influences the program’s strategy but also shares his unique experience as a CFO with like-minded professionals across the innovation economy.

The impact

Saildrone’s marine-loving team keeps production and testing buzzing at its San Francisco Bay-side manufacturing facility in Alameda, California. Today, they’re building saildrones to gather climate change data and high-resolution ocean mapping for scientists at universities, NOAA and NASA, as well as patrolling the open seas for the U.S. Department of Defense.

In 2021, the company made headlines when one of its 23-foot Saildrone Explorers, equipped with a specially designed “hurricane wing,” sailed into Hurricane Sam, navigating 50-foot waves and winds gusting over 120 mph to help scientists better understand and predict the rapid intensification of hurricanes.

Saildrone expanded its technology to address new market needs like ocean mapping, maritime security, and lifecycle solutions for offshore wind farms. The 72-foot Surveyor, launched in January 2021, is the only autonomous platform capable of performing International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)-compliant bathymetry surveys to depths of 23,000 ft (7,000 m). The Surveyor is expected to contribute valuable data toward Seabed 2030, a global initiative to map the world’s oceans in high resolution by the end of this decade. The newest platform in the fleet, the 33-foot Voyager, performs IHO-compliant multibeam ocean mapping down to 984 feet (300 meters) and is optimized for persistent situational awareness at sea.

The impressive capabilities of Saildrone’s autonomous vehicles have been proven in numerous operational missions sailing almost one million nautical miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic and spending more than twenty-thousand days at sea in some of the most extreme weather conditions on the planet.

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