• Carlos Cerqueira

Astropreneurs Touchdown event puts the spotlight on the European space economy

Yesterday’s AstroMatchathon was all about matching start-ups with corporations. But that is only the first step. If the Astropreneurs are to truly succeed in growing the EU space economy, they also need the support of the entire space community.

This is where the Astropreneurs Touchdown event came into play.

The virtual event was a great opportunity for all the project’s participants to share best practices in space innovation and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. It was also a chance for aspiring Astropreneurs to learn about the vast potential of Europe’s space economy.

“Our goal is to be able to compete with U.S. companies, but to do so, Europe must make it easier for companies to access capital,” said Tomas Jonsson of the European Commission’s DG for Space and Defence Industry. “We need a few success stories that open European investors’ eyes to the importance of the space sector.”

Jonsson highlighted some of the Commission’s many initiatives for supporting start-ups, including the Copernicus Incubator, Cassini Accelerators, and annual hackathon events. He also noted that the Commission is currently developing a new financial programme for space-based products. “These initiatives provide start-ups with the technology and tools, but it is up to you to transform them into viable products and services,” explained Jonsson.

“Afterall, the ultimate goal of being a start-up is to stop being a start-up and become a real company,” added Carlos Cerqueira, Director of Innovation at the Instituto Pedro Nunes and Astropreneurs project coordinator.

Supporting space start-ups

Through its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the European Commission also funds numerous space-related projects – including the Astropreneurs project. “As the name suggests, an Astropreneur is a hybrid of an entrepreneur and a space sector actor,” said Cerqueira. “For the Astropreneurs project, it is a group of 167 start-ups and 500 entrepreneurs from across Europe who are on a mission to disrupt the space economy.”

The main goal of the project was to provide start-ups and entrepreneurs with the support they need to secure investments, find their first customers, and establish themselves as successful companies. It did this through an acceleration programme, combined with extensive networking.

“Our aim is to help advance Astropreneurs past the start-up stage and towards becoming competitive businesses,” remarked Barbara Cembella, Space Up project coordinator and member of the Astropreneurs advisory board. “We do this by leveraging our vast networks and experience to connect start-ups to the right partners.”

For example, partners offered participating start-ups mentoring on such technical skills as using Earth Observation data and GNSS positioning, help with accessing public and private funding and investment opportunities, and support in developing their business ideas.

Several mentors used the event to offer some sage advice to start-ups: “A good idea is important, but it’s just the first step,” said Aude Nzeh-Ndong, Funding Mentor at Aerospace Valley. “You must ensure there’s a need for your product and, perhaps more importantly, that people are willing to pay for it.”

“Look beyond what you know,” added Mike Curtis Rouse, a mentor on space technology at Xi4 Ltd. “Just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean you can’t do it better.”

“There’s no doubt, space activity needs technology, but it also needs rules and regulations,” cautioned Efrén Díaz, a mentor on intellectual property at Bufete Mas y Calvet. “You need laws and legality to do what you want from a technology aspect, so always seek competent legal advice.”

Rouse agrees, urging start-ups to “get your business right before you even think about getting the technology right.”

Work hard and then even harder

The event also included a panel discussion with four space start-ups who shared their experiences with the Astropreneurs project. One common theme amongst the panellists was that hard work usually pays off, but there’s always more work to be done.

“We knew from the beginning that this endeavour would be difficult,” said Pablo de la Cruz Greciet, CEO and Co-founder of Anzen Engineering, a Spain-based company providing specialised engineering services to the UAS, aviation, and defence sectors. “But our efforts paid off as we had our services accepted and have received outstanding feedback from our customers.”

Tiago Cristóvão, COO and Founder of Matereosapce and UNDERSEE, two Portugal-based companies that provide water quality monitoring and forecasting to environmental agencies and aquaculture companies, noted that although the technology issues are important, it’s the business issues that often prove to be the most challenging. “What customers want to use today is nowhere close to what we’re actually able to do with the technology we have,” he explained. “The challenge is figuring out how to close this gap.”

According to the panellists, the support provided by the Astropreneurs project was influential in being able to address such challenges. “Our mentors helped ensure we didn’t lose focus on what’s important when we’re overwhelmed by a million other things,” said Jan Kolmas, COO and Co-founder of SuperVision Earth, a German start-up that uses satellite monitoring to help prevent pipeline incidents and risks.

“The project helped me understand the complete value chain – why a customer would buy our project, how our product brings added value to the customer, etc.,” added Jyotsna Budideti, CEO and Co-founder of, a French agri-tech start-up. “My advice to aspiring Astropreneurs is to constantly ask questions and always listen to the advice of others.”

The next generation of Astropreneurs

The Astropreneurs Touchdown event made it abundantly clear that when it comes to the European space economy, the potential is there. “We have four times more space-related patents now than just 20 years ago and today more than a billion people are using Galileo – a number that increases by 5 or 6% every year,” said Raffaele Buompane, EBN Senior Advisor and Astropreneurs Advisory Board member.

“What I see here is the next generation of Astropreneurs,” noted Sascha Heising, Project Manager at CESAH.

“Who knows, with the right support, maybe the European version of SpaceX is here with us today,” concluded CzechInvest’s Michal Kuneš.

About the author:

This article was written by Carlos Cerqueria, Director of Innovation at the Instituto Pedro Nunes and Astropreneurs project coordinator.

All images were taken from our materials!

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