Editor’s note: this post is by Valerie Vlasenko from ArcticStartup. Fore more exclusive space interviews and industry insight, check out vspace.news. Photo courtesy: Slush Media
Where do space enthusiasts go if they want to know more about the industry?
Space is trending and there is no shortage of events to go to. The problem, however, is that these are mostly done by space people for space people. As a result, you are likely to get “space overload” or get lost in all the engineering terminology.
To avoid that, head up north to Helsinki-based Slush – the biggest startup conference in the Nordics. Of course, finding space start-ups can be a challenge, but just last week #slush16 was an exception. The Slush team managed to unite space startups, astronauts, academia, investors and government under one umbrella, solving the biggest industry challenge – attracting more non-space people. Slush became an event to learn about business opportunities in space and for the industry to mark its territory in tech and innovation.
Space companies and startups at Slush
If you still secretly dream of becoming an astronaut, Cohu Entertainment has great news for you! On the first day of Slush it announced the Space Nation Astronaut Program – a global training programme where anyone can become an astronaut. It starts with a mobile app, where anyone can test their astronaut skills through a range of physical, psychological and team-building exercises.
“Space has always fascinated us, and we want to make it more accessible for everyone. We are going there to live and work, and it shouldn’t be limited to just billionaires or a selected few from the right countries. Astronauts have 22nd century skills that are beneficial for all of us. We are creating a new “Moonshot” phenomenon to empower the world,” said Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, the CEO and Co-Founder of Cohu Entertainment, a Finnish space media company behind the Space Nation initiative. Next year, Space Nation will pick one winner to go to space.
Space Nation by Cohu was not the only space entertainment company at Slush. For those keen on VR, San Francisco based SpaceVR presented its platform where everyone can experience what it feels like to be in space. It plans to send virtual reality cameras on orbit to allow unprecedented access to play both physical and VR/AR games in space.
SpaceVR signed a launch contract with NanoRacks to deploy the world’s first VR camera satellite into space with the SpaceX rocket. Overview 1, the virtual reality satellite, uses 4 sensors to capture extremely high resolution, producing completely immersive 360° virtual reality content from the Low Earth Orbit. The satellite will be delivered to the International Space Station in June 2017.
Besides VR and astronaut training, another significant share in “real” space business – Earth observation – was represented by Korean Nara Space Technology and Finnish Iceye. Both companies focus on collecting Earth data from space by using SAR – Synthetic Aperture Radars. This allows monitoring Earth without restrictions, such as weather conditions or lack of sunlight.
Satellite data is one the fields in space where investors see the most potential, and opportunity for business. “Just to give you an idea, in 2014 Apple invested – $182 billion, Amazon – $89 billion, Google – $66 billion in satellite data, and now, in 2016, the numbers are even higher. Earth observation, communication, navigation – that’s where we use space every day,” said Frank Salzberger, Head of the Technology Transfer Programme Office at the European Space Agency, during the Slush Corporate Pitching Competition.
The Earth observation business already has its own stars on the horizon. Last year, Russian-American Astrodigital, a platform for accessing data from satellites, came in second at the Slush100 startup competition. This helped them grow their team to 20 engineers and raise $6 million in seed funding. “Space as a commercial sector is still very young, and it takes time to gain momentum there. Once we have some success stories, investors will come. They will follow the money,” said Ekaterina Kotenko-Lengold, Head of Business Development at Astrodigital, during our meeting at Skolkovo.
Hardcore “upstream” space also had a little bit of presence at the conference. While SpaceX employees were walking around at Slush, US-based Axiom Space announced that it will train and launch Space Nation astronauts for their first experience in space. Co-founded in January 2015 by former ISS program manager Michael Suffredini and Kam Ghaffarian, the President and CEO of SGT, Axiom is building the world’s first private commercial space station.
Their mission is to make lower Earth orbit available for everybody by providing a platform that serves multiple purposes. Axiom will have flights beginning in late 2019 for both tourists and longer duration astronauts. Plus, Axiom Space will help developing countries to build their own human spaceflight programs, training their astronauts like NASA.
Doing business in space is not easy. But the founder of Moon Express, Naveen Jain, is convinced that with moonshot thinking and abundant mindset everything is possible. This year his company became the first commercial enterprise to get permission from the government to land on the Moon. Naveen attended Slush to discuss how to achieve moonshot thinking with Steve Jurvetson (partner at DFJ) and Maria Ritola (founder Iris AI).
We also did an exclusive interview with Neveen Jain, subscribe at vspace.news to get it
Space Tech Investment Opportunities
Besides startups, Slush also brought in a bunch of investors interested in having new space companies in their portfolios. For example, space and rocket enthusiast and investor in SpaceX and Planet Labs, Steve Jurvetson from Draper Fisher Jurvetson, who gave a keynote on accelerating technological change.
One Finnish giant present was Reaktor. Not only did they surprise everyone with their remarkable stand, they also told ArcticStartup that their long awaited nanosat, the Reaktor Hello World, is scheduled to launch in Spring 2017.
Private investors like Stephan Reckie, co-founder and CEO of Angelus Funding and Partner at Concordia Ventures and Edge of Space, are also passionate about space. Following his passion, Stephan formed a key strategic partnership with CASIS in 2013, enabling newspace expansion. His recent newspace company Edge of Space focuses on providing students, teachers, entrepreneurs, and space enthusiasts access to space throughout the world, such as science kits based on actual space flight experiments, unique space science gifts and more. Stephan said he was at Slush to explore space businesses in Europe.
Maxfield Capital with a massive presence in Israel, New York and Moscow is also interested. “There are a few areas in SpaceTech, that represent a good investment opportunity for a typical VC: can show traction even in a mid-term and are not extremely capital intensive. We see software products on top of the satellite imagery as one of these areas,” said Galina Degtyareva, Senior analyst at Maxfield Capital.
Space Education for Future Entrepreneurs and Engineers
Finland is well-recognized for its high quality of education, which is true for space education as well. For example, Aalto University, whose stand gathered crowds at Slush, is among the top-5 most promising ecosystems in the world ranked by MIT. Aalto-1 and Aalto-2 nanosatellite projects led by Jaan Praks are Finnish research satellites developed by Aalto University students from the School of Electrical Engineering. The satellite has been built and tested in Otaniemi for almost five years, however, is yet to be launched. ‘The competence and expertise gained during development of the satellite will also have a direct impact on development in other application areas,” said Praks.
European Space Agency Technology Transfer Program To Support Space Startups
Not many startup events have the guts to bring governmental agencies on board, but Slush is not your average startup conference. This year the event invited the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Technology Transfer Program (TTPO).
The TTPO began in 1990 to help entrepreneurs and startups to launch businesses specialized in space research and development. ESA grants up to 25,000 euros for product or service development, IPR (patenting or acquiring licenses), market studies, and travel to international business fairs. ESA also opened the Business Incubation Center Sweden in 2015 and plans to open 2 more in Norway and Finland in 2017. In addition to boosting the local economy, space incubators will become a part of the start-up ecosystem and encourage companies to use space technologies and space data to create new tools and systems.
Two years ago Slush hosted Leland Melvin, an American engineer and former NASA astronaut who flew two missions on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2008 and 2009 to help build the International Space Station. This year, they invited Gregory Johnson, a retired colonel in the United States Air Force, former NASA astronaut and veteran of two space flights, to give an astronaut’s perspective. Greg gave an insightful speech on what it’s like to live and work in space, and shared some of his thoughts on space exploration. Today, Greg works for a non-profit to maximise ISS use and inspire people about space.
To sum up, looks like in 2017 the Nordics get at least 3 space launches, plenty of business opportunities from local ESA BICs and a bunch of investors willing to invest in space companies.