What Can ESA Do for Your Space Startup? Tips from ESA Head of Control & Management Elia Montanari

What is the European Space Agency?  Well, ESA does a number of things in European Space Technology. Its Venture-Startup arm, the European Business Applications, however, has a single mission: help fund and grow European space startups.

Who is ESA?

ESA is an intergovernmental organization and investor of sorts. Hold on, though: ESA doesn’t want equity in your company. They don’t want their money back. What could possibly be in it for them then? They want you to grow, thrive, create jobs in Europe according to Elia Montanari, the Head of Control & Management Office at ESA.

Does that mean my business can’t go international, if we want?

Not at all. ESA actually WANTS you to expand beyond European borders into any state or country. In fact, they have connections with varying organisations and investors in the UK and US, as well as some in Asia-Pacific markets. All of these stakeholders are looking to benefit their companies and interests, however ESA is looking to actually help you work with them. The European Space Agency simply wants to give the great chance to startup and grow in Europe and compete globally.

Okay, so what kind of influence will they have on my business?

ESA’s role is to help with the development of your product and services. In particular, products and services which exploit space infrastructure, satellite navigation, telecommunication, Earth observation, and so on.

How are you going to help make the product?

ESA will provide funding – ranging from 60,000 to 1,000,000 Euros – but you yourself need to bring another investor who will match ESA’s contribution. ESA will also help with your prototype, introductions to other investors, industry mentors and potential pilot partners and customers.

ESA also has connections to organizations outside of Europe, including international partners and investors, customer or benefactor who could help your business expand globally. Their endorsement on behalf of your company will give you credibility and status in European and international markets. Your startup also becomes more notable to investors associated with ESA which could lead to more funding. You’ll also get access to incubation within one of the 19 incubation sites ESA has around Europe.

Investors aren’t going to take note of my startup just because I’ve been through the ESA program, though?

They may. And even if they don’t, the ESA investor forum can make sure your startup comes to their attention.

If you’ve ever been to Arctic15 or heard of it, you know its focus is on getting real deals between startups and investors, as well as fine-tuning the selected startups who participate in their competitive funding program. You could call the ESA Investor Forum a more focused version of Arctic15 for space companies: Your startup will come to the forum after completing the development cycle and get help from ESA and investors on how to now refine that product for the global market.

Okay, so ESA helps us develop our product and connect with investors. Will they help us get the product sold too?

Yes and no. ESA doesn’t really help with commercialization of a product. They will provide some marketing budget as well as guidance on how to market. They will also create opportunities to network with potential partners and customers. However, the full commercialization plan and execution is largely up to you.

So they basically abandon us after helping develop the product?

No. ESA provides you with a dedicated personal trainer who sits down with your team to help you figure out a sustainable business model (or several) for commercializing your product.

After the process you and your startup should be rather confident in your ability to take on the market.

How? We won’t have any experience with real customers if we’ve just finished the product.

Not true. Qualitative customer feedback to your product is actually one of the pillars of ESA program. As we said, ESA has mentors, investors and personal trainers who will help you develop the product, but the unique value of the individuals they pair you with is that most of them are actually customers too. In this way, your customer will virtually be involved in every step of product development so you can be confident your product appeals to their pain point. Even the best products need to be marketed, though, but that’s where the marketing budget and guidance comes in.

Okay…well…how can we apply?

Explore ESA incubation program website and get ready to apply for the next intake. Take some time to hone your application and perhaps get in contact with those who were a part of the program in the past. Any more questions? You can catch Elia at Arctic15 on June 5th, before or after his appearance on the Arctic Stage. W