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Innovate UK

Mission accomplished

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I’m delighted to report that our recent Space Mission UK was an enormous success filled with immense networking opportunities and meetings with the top US organisations in the space sector.

To infinity and beyond

Space Mission UK traveled to Utah, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles from 8-14 August 2015 and provided nine of the UK’s leading space and satellite application entrepreneurs with the opportunity to interact with world leading investors and potential partners. We worked with UK Trade & Investment to organise the mission.

Long recognised potential

The global space industry is in the midst of a fundamental shift, making room for private sector innovation. The UK government has long recognised the potential of the space sector and how it can further boost the UK economy.  Already, the UK space sector is thriving with an annual growth rate of 8.3 percent since 2008, with a growing workforce of 37,000 people.

Small Satellite conference

Our first stop on the mission took the nine startups to the 29th annual Small Satellite Conference hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Logan, Utah. As one of the top small satellite-focused conferences in the world with more than 1,800 participants, the companies networked with leading organisations in the small satellite industry.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Of course, it wouldn’t be a space mission without meeting with US space agency, NASA. The members of the mission met with Tony Freeman, manager of the Innovation Foundry at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Freeman discussed JPL’s collaboration with countries around the world and highlighted that they have a few established partnerships with the UK, including one with British-owned company Surrey Satellite Technology, but are looking for more. The session provided an opportunity for each of the companies to pitch for further collaboration as well as receive detailed feedback and direct introductions to new contacts to follow up with.

The work continued at an evening outdoor conference networking session, which offered the companies the opportunity to meet a wide range of conference participants. Many of the nine space companies involved were able to establish connections with new partners and potential customers – connections which have continued to flourish now that we are back in the UK.

Lockheed Martin

The next stop on our mission was Silicon Valley, California, renowned as a leading hub for innovation, startups and investments.

There we met Lockheed Martin at their Advanced Technology Center. Lockheed Martin spoke about the importance of startups in the industry to fuel innovation and new technologies and how Innovate UK is at the forefront of helping move the UK space industry forward. The meeting offered valuable insights from one of the world’s largest companies on how to grow and develop within the space sector.

Meeting US investors

We then travelled to San Francisco to meet with a group of investors, hosted by O’Reilly Tech Ventures, a leading US venture capital firm. There, the UK entrepreneurs were exposed to US investors who had already made investments in space businesses such as planetlabs and are looking for technology that is disruptive and unique to break through the emerging ‘new space’ market in Silicon Valley. The investors took time to not only listen to the pitches, provide feedback and make introductions but also took time to give broader advice. They talked about how patience and persistence is key as it can take several pitch rounds and often rejections before anything receives investment. It is vital not to give up and aim big.

Space Angels

Our final stop took us to Los Angeles, where we met with the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center, one the US’s leading academic institutions. By this time the team had been working and travelling hard so some time to talk about the technologies and wider markets was a refreshing change and demonstrated the depth of knowledge the UK has in this sector.

We then traveled to the British Consulate where each entrepreneur gave their business pitch to the Space Angels Network, an angel investing network that encourages private investment in commercial space, including the seed investment some of the companies were looking for. Investor comments such as, “Are you still accepting investment?” “How can I be a part of this?” and “I have been waiting for an entrepreneur with this type of technology" were music to the entrepreneurs’ ears and a much higher than average number of follow up meetings were set.

There is a huge amount of potential in the UK space industry and as a part of Innovate UK, I’m very proud of the companies we’ve helped foster.

Investor networking

After the pitches, we hosted an informal session that allowed the UK companies to continue to network with investors one-on-one as well as talk to the other companies that the investors and UKTI had invited along as potential collaborators and customers. Although it had been a long day, all of the companies threw themselves at the opportunity to network with industry leaders.

Overall, the nine entrepreneurs came away from the mission with new knowledge of the industry, new business leads, potential collaboration opportunities with leading investors and organisations and new friendships with fellow entrepreneurs in the space and satellite application industry. Mission accomplished.

You can follow Tim on Twitter @TSB_TimJust

Read more about Innovate UK's Space Team in the "Meet the team" blog.

You can find out more about Entrepreneur Missions in Mike Pitt's recent blog.

You can follow us on Twitter @innovateuk and see our YouTube channel here

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  1. Comment by Dan posted on

    Watch Space Mission 2015 – Lift off: