Cassini Entrepreneurship Days – European Excellence in New Space

 Cassini Entrepreneurship Days – European Excellence in New Space

The Cassini Entrepreneurship Days 2023, hosted by the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) in Prague this June, was a pivotal event in the development of the new space economy in Europe.

Space entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators, and guests from support organisations celebrated the outstanding achievements of the new Cassini space entrepreneurship programme, which was launched by European Commissioner Breton on 25 January 2022.

A New Era in New Space in Europe

The biggest event to date in the Cassini programme, attended by several hundreds of participants over the course of two days, really felt like a new era in a new space in Europe. This was highlighted in two key speeches, both with very similar messages. First was the opening speech by Guillaume de la Brosse, Head of the Unit for Space Innovation, Start-ups, Economics at DG DEFIS (Defence Industry and Space) of the European Commission. He portrayed the Cassini programme as a one-stop-shop for space entrepreneurs, from new startups to established companies wishing to integrate space data into their operations, products, or services.

DG DEFIS Director General Timo Pesonen addresses the EUSPA Cassini Entrepreneurship Days 2023 (photo: author)

On the second day, this was complemented by Director General of DG DEFIS Timo Pesonen, who made very clear that the biggest gap in European new space support, being scaleup and big-ticket private investments into space companies, was now filled with the European Commission actively supporting these large investors and keep the most successful European space companies in Europe, rather than see them seek investments in the United States.

We are working hard to accommodate space entrepreneurs in Europe at any stage in their development, from startup to big ticket investments, preventing them having to look for overseas investors”

Timo Pesonen, Director General DG DEFIS, European Commission

European Private Investment in Space

Several panels at the event were dedicated to private investors, which is an important source of funding for startups after incubation. Entrepreneur Francho Garcia of Arkadia Space listed the key funding options for early-stage space technology companies, often starting with putting in your own money, followed by public grants, like from the European Space Agency (ESA), soft loans from national programmes, for example from national space agencies, and finally business angels. This last category is often willing to invest in risky early-stage startups, but usually in exchange for sometimes large equity stakes.

“If you want someone to invest in your business, ask them for advice. If you want advice, ask them to invest”

Ted Elvhage, Space Tech Investor, European Business Angel Network (EBAN)
EBAN’s Ted Elvhage chairs a panel on how to lead (and fund) a space business (photo: author)

Investor Novica Mrdovic Vianello of Star Tech Ventures listed out the key areas that his organisation, and many other private investors in space data applications are most interested in:

  • Autonomous systems and IoT (Internet-of-Things)
  • Quantum Solutions for Earth Observation
  • Insurance and finance products and services
  • Defence and surveillance products and services
  • Agritech, including weather and precision agriculture, products and services.

Mr Mrdovic added that the European space market still needs to mature further. There are too many Earth observation data platforms that need to be consolidated. He also thinks there are too many satellite constellation projects that really need to be consolidated in smarter solutions, like ‘constellation as a service’, requiring fewer satellites for more, perhaps shared applications. He was also critical about the chances of the many European small launchers that are struggling to compete economically with rideshare providers. Finally, he also noted that the space industry is not ready for SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Company).

The event attracted over 30 European private investment companies that are investing in space to the event, including Starburst, Sunfish Partners, Star Tech Ventures, SpaceTec Partners, and the European Business Angels Network.

The Sky is not your Limit

The first day ended with a motivational speech by Astronaut Trainer Nancy Vermeulen, who emphasised the fact that we need to stay close to our dreams, work hard to achieve the best in our abilities, but also be ready to pivot when needed. This a great message to all aspiring entrepreneurs out there. She ended by saying that space has a place for people from all backgrounds, not just scientists and engineers.

“What do you need to study to prepare for a career in space? Anything! Study what you enjoy most and there will be a job in space for you”

Nancy Vermeulen, Space Training Academy

My EU Space Competition Awards

One of the highlights of the Cassini Entrepreneurship Days was the MyEUSpace Competition award ceremony. This competition ran in 2022 and early 2023, looking for the best startups across three development stages and over several themes. There were 15 prizes of €10,000 for the best idea, ten prizes of €30,000 for the best prototype, and five prizes of €100,000 for the best commercial product.

MyEUSpace Competition best product winners on stage in Prague (image: EUSPA)

The five biggest prizes for best products went to five very interesting startups:

  • Murmuration: This start-up aims to monitor the environmental impact of tourism by utilizing satellite data, paving the way for sustainable practices in the industry.
  • j-Snow: Leveraging high-resolution satellite data, j-Snow provides near real-time snow monitoring, revolutionizing snow-related services and applications.
  • Ajuma: Focused on skin cancer prevention, Ajuma employs satellite data for UV monitoring, empowering individuals to safeguard their health.
  • ClearkSky Vision: This start-up employs deep learning algorithms to deliver daily cloud-free Sentinel-2 images, ensuring accurate and timely information for various applications.
  • Onocoy: By harnessing the power of Web3 technology, Onocoy establishes a community-powered dense network of GNSS reference stations for ultra-accurate positioning, opening new possibilities in navigation and beyond.

Read the full article on these winners here.

Pitches to Investors

A large part of the event was dedicated to over 50 startups pitching to the present investors, customers and mentors. All companies had 90 seconds to pitch their startup, which for some proved easier than for others, but it showed the wide variety of extremely talented people that the European is bringing to the new space table. And it wasn’t perhaps the fact that there were so many startup pitching, but the fact that there were so many potential investors to pitch to that really set the scene of this event, emphasising the messages by Guillaume de la Brosse and Timo Pesonen that European new space is entering a new era indeed.

Co-founder and CEO of Neutron Star Systems Manuel la Rosa Betancourt pitches to investors (photo: author)

You can see all companies that pitched at the event in the companies listing on the EUSPA website here (pdf).

About Cassini

Cassini is the European Commission’s initiative to support entrepreneurs, start-ups, and SMEs in the space industry during 2021-2027. The initiative is open to all areas of the EU Space Programme and covers both upstream (i.e. nanosats, launchers, etc. and downstream (i.e. products/services enabled by space data, etc.). Cassini includes a €1 billion EU seed and growth fund, hackathons and mentoring, prizes, a business accelerator, partnering and matchmaking.

The Cassini programme is available to space businesses in Europe at all stages of development and all TRLs (Technology Readiness Level). In essence, Cassini consists of six elements, each supporting European new space companies in different ways:

Cassini Hackathon in the Netherlands – 3-5 November 2023

The 6th Cassini Hackathon is set to take place simultaneously in 10 locations across Europe, and you can be part of it! Join hundreds of participants as they embark on three common challenges centred around international development and humanitarian aid.

dotSPACE foundation, and Royal Haskoning DHV are the local organisers in the Netherlands. We are thrilled to invite you to this prestigious event at the head office of Royal Haskoning in Amersfoort from 3 to 5 November 2023.

For all the latest about the CASSINI Hackathon, visit our dedicated page regularly. Also, visit the official website of the 6th Edition of the Cassini Hackathon.

Why should you participate?

Participating in the CASSINI Hackathon offers an incredible opportunity to showcase your skills, connect with like-minded individuals, and contribute to solving global challenges. By collaborating with experts in various fields, you can make a tangible impact and potentially bring your innovative solutions to life. Moreover, the winners of each hackathon will gain access to the prestigious CASSINI Mentoring program, opening doors to further guidance and support for their projects.

Stay tuned with our news to learn more in the coming months!

Remco Timmermans

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