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Sandpoint drone inventors featured on “Shark Tank” Friday

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 22, 2015

The XPlusOne drone hovers like a helicopter and then tilts 90 degrees and flies like a plane. (<!-- No photographer provided --> / XPlusOne)
The XPlusOne drone hovers like a helicopter and then tilts 90 degrees and flies like a plane. ( / XPlusOne)

When J.D. Claridge got a call from a producer at ABC’s reality TV show “Shark Tank,” he briefly thought it was a prank.

Claridge and his friend and business partner Charles Manning founded the drone company XPlusOne in Sandpoint, and when the phone rang back in April they’d just raised $143,000 on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter.

“The producers saw the Kickstarter campaign and called us,” Claridge said. “It’s not something we’d ever consider applying for ourselves.”

On Friday, Claridge and Manning will be featured on ABC’s Shark Tank at 9 p.m. The reality TV show lets entrepreneurs pitch their businesses ideas to “The Sharks” – a group of business leaders and entrepreneurs including apparel company founder Daymond John, NBA franchise owner Mark Cuban and investor Barbara Corcoran. The Sharks may or may not bid to become part of a project, and often heckle and outbid each other in the process.

“I obviously can’t say anything about what happens on the show,” Claridge said this week.

Claridge grew up in Spokane Valley and attended East Valley High School. After getting a degree in aerospace engineering at LeTourneau University in Texas, he worked for a couple of different companies in Oregon, then moved to Sandpoint for a job with Quest Aircraft. Manning is the CEO of mobile analytics company Kochava, which also is based in Sandpoint.

“I’ve always been building flying things in my basement,” Claridge said.

The XPlusOne drone combines the features of an ordinary quad-copter drone with the shape of an airplane. It takes off and hovers like a drone but once it’s airborne it tilts 90 degrees to fly like a plane, and can go as fast as 60 mph and up to 10,000 feet in altitude. It will fly 10 to 15 minutes per battery charge, and already has been noticed by drone reviewers and fan sites despite the fact that mass production hasn’t begun.

The partners are currently taking preorders for the drones and production is expected to begin soon in Idaho. Claridge said the basic version will run around $1,500 and the top-of-the-line version about $2,100.

Initially, the two friends hoped to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter, but interest was so strong they raised nearly three times as much.

“I’m glad we raised that much,” Claridge said, adding that the sum just about covered what it took to start production and assembly of the drone.

Claridge and Manning have been in weekly contact with Shark Tank producers since April. They had to record and submit an audition video and fill out stacks of paperwork.

“They kept telling us it wasn’t very likely our segment would air,” Claridge said. “They said they get 60,000 applications every year.”

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