Alex Suarez ’24 Races to New Heights with Drone Frame Business
The York College of Pennsylvania Mechanical and Electrical Engineering major’s latest venture is taking flight.
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering major and drone racer Alex Suarez ’24 recently launched a business, KWADz LLC. The company specializes in crafting custom drone-racing frames, a venture born of Alex’s long history with drone racing.
Alex’s entrance into the world of engineering and drone racing was fueled by an early fascination with aviation. At age four, he attended his first Blue Angels airshow.
“It sparked something that has lasted awhile,” he says.
Finding and refining a passion
In elementary school, when he wasn’t building objects and taking them apart, Alex was piloting drones. By high school, he was racing drones, typically as the youngest of the competitors.
Entrepreneurship naturally tied into Alex’s fascination with drone racing. He needed a way to fund his interest, so he launched a drone photo and video business while still in high school. He made videos for his JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) unit and his cross country team. But he soon realized that his true passion was racing.
“When I was flying drones, I really liked to race,” he says. “There’s no auto level or automation to the flight. With photo and video drones, it gets boring after a little bit.”
Racing drones travel at speeds exceeding 80 mph as the operator dons first-person viewer goggles that make him feel as if he’s in the pilot’s seat. Flying around obstacles and through gates no more than six feet off the ground, drone racing is a fully immersive experience.
Alex’s zeal for disassembling objects and rebuilding them manifested itself with each race. His drone frames would break, and he’d lose time removing five or six screws to replace a motor or an arm. In those few seconds, he might miss the next heat and be set back in the competition. He began designing his own drone-racing frame.
Engineering a better solution
After graduating high school, Alex was drawn to York College of Pennsylvania’s hands-on approach to education and to the small class sizes. He knew the College’s model would allow him to build personal connections with professors and get the help he needed to hone his dream. The Frederick, MD, resident had discovered the College through a STEM outreach program.
Throughout his undergraduate studies, Alex continued to race drones, which evolved into a full-fledged passion that has led him to race nationally and internationally. With each competition, he noted the shortcomings of his commercially available drone-racing frames.
Through the Engaged Scholars program at the College, Alex was able to secure a grant to fund his prototypes and research. That allowed him to create and test multiple frame iterations, incorporating feedback from his professors and fellow drone pilots to fine-tune the design.
The Engaged Scholars is an honors community that promotes applying academic learning to real-world challenges. As part of the Graham Center for Collaborative Innovation, the scholars group works with mentors to provide human-centered research and innovative solutions to complex problems while contributing to academic innovation.
“The Engaged Scholars program has helped me connect with different people to talk to, resources to organize the business, how I can format it, and grant money to prototype and test the product,” says Alex.
After years of designing, testing, and refining, Alex clinched third place in the 2022 Collegiate Drone Racing Championship using a frame he designed. Then, in late 2023, after a few more finishing updates, he released a frame to the public that stands out for its ease of repair—a crucial feature in the world of drone racing. In a sport where crashes are inevitable, Alex’s highly configurable frames allow for the swift replacement of parts, minimizing downtime between races.
Alex sells the frame through his KWADz LLC. The company name harkens back to his high school days of drone racing, when he and a group of fellow youth pilots from Maryland collaborated to create a Discord channel named KWAD, which stood for Kids With Awesome Drones. When it came time to choose a name for his business, Alex wanted to pay tribute to the original drone-flying friends who helped ignite his passion.
Balancing academics and entrepreneurship
Amid the demands of entrepreneurship and a thriving drone-racing career, Alex remains committed to his academic journey. The senior is contemplating pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical or mechanical engineering with a focus on drone research. His long-term goal is to design every component of a drone and release a comprehensive flying system for enthusiasts to purchase.
Alex’s immediate plans are to continue refining and promoting his drone frames while designing new parts and sustaining his racing endeavors throughout his graduate studies. Through it all, he points to the importance of collaboration with professors and peers as a key to his success. The support and guidance he received from York College’s faculty and the Engaged Scholars helped him grow not only as an Engineering student but as an entrepreneur.
“If you work with the professors, they’ll help you and guide you to what you want to do,” he says. “That’s really what helped me get this project going: bouncing it back and forth with my professors, helping me understand why frames broke in this way and how to prevent that.”
Whether he’s racing drones at breakneck speeds or designing innovative drone parts, Alex is pushing the boundaries of drone technology as he inspires others to dream big, innovate fearlessly, and embrace the thrill of taking flight.
York College works with Engaged Scholars and Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows From Day One to help them form their dreams into a personal mission, which is supported with financial and other assistance. They leave York College with a record of achievement that will gain the attention of employers, graduate schools, or others who provide entry into the next step in the extraordinary lives they imagine for themselves