Two years ago, the European Space Agency (ESA) joined the ELITE Partner Programme with the objective of providing vital support to its highly innovative technology companies. Here, ESA Business Services’ Elia Montanari talks with Paola Cuneo, Head of Investors and Advisors at ELITE, about an important new initiative focused on channelling such support at an early stage and creating an exciting scale-up pipeline of enterprises. Plus, Elia shares insights on current trends in space-enabled technology - and the practical applications that are already part of our everyday lives.
Can you start by briefly describing what ESA Space Solutions does?
The primary objective of ESA Space Solutions is to support businesses preparing space-enabled services or products for the market. Our support is mainly focused on dealing with business and commercialisation challenges rather than technology development.
ESA Space Solutions offers zero-equity funding of up to several million Euros per activity, as well as technical and commercial guidance, access to our network of partners and the ESA brand.
What criteria are you using to adjudicate the grants?
We’re looking for teams that have identified a market opportunity that’s attractive and has real potential for engaging customers. Motivation, business experience and industry domain expertise are key.
But most importantly of all, we want to hear business ideas that are commercially viable, technically possible and involve either space tech or data.
Businesses that are based in ESA member states can apply to the program.
ESA Space Solutions has recently launched designed to simplify the complexity inherent in any large institutional organisation such as the European Space Agency.
What recent trends have you seen ?
The importance of space-based Satnav cannot be overstated. It is in our everyday lives through applications and is at our fingertips at every moment. Some of the largest ventures, with combined equity value of around $400 billion, are based on Satnav.
Satnav is now converging with computer vision and Augmented Reality, and this in turn is driving the need for a new era of precise positioning.
Moreover, the Satnav experience provides us with a growth model for other space-based technologies: Geospatial Intelligence has proved itself in the COVID-19 pandemic as a capable and near-real-time source of economic activity with the potential to become as large an opportunity as Satnav. During the pandemic, French company Kayrros has been producing the EYCK Recovery Index, a daily index of commodity classes that was developed in partnership with Ernst & Young using a base of 100 at the start of the emergency.
Meanwhile Space Communications, already a very profitable business, has the potential to become twice as large.
It is therefore possible that over $1 trillion of equity value could be created in space-based Communications and Geospatial Intelligence segments over the next decade.
What are the advantages of the partnership with ELITE ?
ELITE has been instrumental in launching the ESA Investor Forum, which brings together a broad network of private investment funds and financial institutions in the UK and Europe. Just like ESA, ELITE is passionate about supporting entrepreneurial companies on a growth trajectory - and there’s no doubt that, for such companies, being able to come and pitch in the setting of London Stock Exchange is a hugely inspiring motivator for the future. So it’s completely logical for us to join forces. Together, we’re better able to help ensure that these companies can deliver on their plans and truly fulfil their potential.
Can you share some successes from past ESA Investor Forums?
The past five editions of the ESA Investor Forum involved 45 ESA-invested companies which have raised circa €60M. Space innovations showcased at these events are already benefiting a range of economic sectors like FinTech, Insurance, Power generation, Logistics, Tourism and Advertising, to name a few. Companies that have participated include Terrabotics, Aitonomi Teleretail, QuantCube Technology, FATMAP or MeVitae.
Among the established private investment funds and financial institutions in the ESA Investor Forum network are: Seraphim Capital UK, CosmiCapital France, PrimoSpace Italy
and European funds such as EIB, EIF and European Business Angel Network.
These funds actively seek deal flow, match making and investments in the New Space domains.
What is your view of the future for Space ?
It is natural that right now we all feel as though the world is in the situation depicted in Brueghel the Elder’s famous painting ‘The Triumph of Death’, currently in lockdown in Madrid’s Prado Museum.
We read that the world is going down the drain… but mankind has survived wars, plagues, pestilence and it will survive COVID-19. After the plague-ridden Middle Ages, Italy enjoyed a period of unparalleled prosperity: the Italian renaissance.
NewSpace will suffer in the short term but it will emerge stronger, fuelled by larger, US-driven dreams of exploration. Colonies on the Moon and Mars will form the basis for the next space wave that makes the new generation dream.
ESA Space Solutions is committed to participating in and sharing this dream, but we do not forget the need to deliver long-term measurable impact for the benefit of our planet and its people while also offering the private sector attractive returns. In the Sustainable Development Goals, ESA Space Solutions - and in particular ASPIRE WITH ESA - has identified a strong framework of reference for any project funded under its aegis.
 To date, these countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
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