Ryan Felner: Entrepreneur, Drone Pilot, Crain’s Hero

Last spring, “06880” chronicled Ryan Felner’s wild ride.

A few months earlier, the Staples High School sophomore bought a drone. He registered it, followed Federal Aviation Authority rules, and began taking beautiful photos. He added gorgeous videos, then built a burgeoning business providing real estate brokers with drone shots.

Owenoke Park, from Ryan Felner’s drone.

But he ran afoul of a new FAA regulation. Ryan lacked Remote Pilot Certification — and faced hefty fines.

Petrified, he feared for his finances, his reputation, his college chances and more.

With the help of his parents, he responded to the FAA. He passed the test. Federal regulators were pleased. In April — before giving a talk at the Maker Faire chronicling his adventures in dronedom — he received his certificate. It was presented personally, by an FAA aviation safety inspector.

Ryan Felner

Today, Ryan is flying higher than ever.

Particularly because he was just named a Crain’s New York “20 Under 20” star. He’s one of 20 young people — all under 20 years old — doing great things.

“Balancing homework and family obligations with business meetings, financial management and travel,” Crain’s says, they’re rising stars in the New York business world.

So what’s next for Ryan Felner?

His newest enterprise is more down to earth than drone photography — but only in its location.

He’s launching a sports training service linking high school athletes with parents seeking role models for their kids. SporTutors handles the transaction, for a small percentage of the $30-per-hour fee.

“It’s highly scalable,” Ryan tells Crain’s. And he’s already working with an app developer to expand the Westport pilot program into a nationwide network.

Ryan Felner (Photo/ Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York)

7 responses to “Ryan Felner: Entrepreneur, Drone Pilot, Crain’s Hero

  1. Well done, Ryan! Here’s a link to the “20 Under 20” story:
    And here’s the link to Ryan’s profile:

  2. The amazing things the children of rich people do are so inspiring! Yay, rich kids! Just think, if the resources available to this kid were given to all our children in America, Crain’s would need a “top 20,000”, not a top “20”. Westport and its children were revoltingly privileged and out of touch with the reality of the economics that drove their privilege when I went to Staples. We all did amazing things and were loudly praised for them… we had no idea that other people’s parents could not provide the time, money experiences, equipment and supplies for their children to shine like we did. We just thought we were awesome… because kids are myopic, self-involved assholes… especially when they are rich kids. Im happy for this kid… but hearing about his “struggle” with the FCC and how he so nobly overcame this terrible hurdle to his inspiring entrepreneurship makes me a bit queasy from my more humbled adult perspective.

    Without the resources available to this kid that a place like Westport provides, he would be very unlikely to exist. I think that is a perspective worth understanding while we pay him on the back all the way to a Harvard MBA.


    • Craig, you hardly sound happy for him. The fact that he grew up in Westport and may be privileged is not his fault. He’s one of the lucky ones and is taking advantage of what’s available to him. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that he works hard to do something he likes, which is still significantly better than most kids, privileged or not. If he were underprivileged and received a grant from some where or managed to raise the money to do all the things he does, does that make it better or more acceptable? Good for him and good for his parents who clearly also work hard to make this possible and who have likely instilled in him the importance of hard work, creativity, innovation,and taking initiative.

  3. From Dan’s earlier post, same day:
    “Not every Westporter is well off. Last year, the Department of Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program helped over 400 residents battered by layoffs, foreclosures and other misfortunes.”

  4. Danielle Dobin

    Ryan – Congrats on having your entrepreneurial achievements recognized by Crain’s. Tangling with a federal agency – and the reality of facing regulatory hurdles and steep fines – must have been tremendously stressful. Good for you for navigating the process (as a teen no less!) and sticking with your business. Those drone photos are extraordinary. Don’t let the earlier negative comment bother you. It says a lot about the commenter and his issues and very little about you. You have made your community proud. Please have Dan post the link for your new business when it’s up. Sounds like a terrific idea, just like your drone photography business. Enjoy your moment and don’t ever let the haters hold you back.

  5. Well done Ryan… Kudos to you…

  6. Mitchell Thompson

    To Ryan: great job, and keep pushing
    forward in all your pursuits .

    To ” Craig” : go away…….just because Ryan comes from an affluent town doesn’t
    mean that he will end up ” driven”
    , yet he certainly is . You, Craig , certainly
    sound like a bitter person ….. keep your
    apparent unhappiness to yourself .