Written by Frank Salzgeber, Head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)
ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme brings space down to Earth – from comets to start-ups. We support entrepreneurs who use space technology and space data in completely new fields and applications. This local investment successfully creates hundreds of jobs each year, boosting local industries across ESA – European Space Agency Member States.
Our activity in recent years has sharply risen. We have established a total of 16 ESA Business Incubation Centres (BICs) across Europe, where we work together with local partners to give start-ups the best possible support. In addition to office space, each start-up receives pre-seed funding and is supported – and coached – on how to raise additional funding through investors.
BICs also regularly host training sessions covering topics such as marketing, social media or legal issues. Throughout their two year incubation, a start-up further has access to technical support from different ESA establishments, national research institutes and industrial partners, opening doors to valuable international networks.
As one recent example, an ESA BIC start-up used spectrometer technology originally developed for ESA’s Rosetta. New applications of this technology detect signs of bed bug infestation in hotel rooms and sniff out evidence of stomach ulcers on patients’ breath. These achievements join a long list of space solutions returning to Earth, from lightweight composites for automobiles to cold plasma for medical disinfection, to precision agriculture for boosting farm yields.
In this process we have nurtured over 400 new companies to date. This number is set to grow further still. The BIC network as a whole is now supporting 130 new start-ups every year – each positively impacting the job market, with some of our alumni already having 30-50 employees.
It isn’t just start-ups that benefit from the vast opportunities that space has to offer. Space is such a challenging environment that technologies developed for it are in a class of their own. Applying this know-how in the terrestrial realm is an attractive prospect for all kinds of businesses. Through our pan-European network of 15 technology brokers we seek to work closely with large companies who use space technologies to enhance their business needs, increasing competitiveness. Both small and large companies are able to license ESA’s intellectual property for these purposes, which is also managed by the TTPO.
One lesson we’ve learned through this process is that our role is really to foster a supportive ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our approach is a European network, but one with a local touch. This kind of environment needs to be established on a regional basis by linking up with the right partners: our BICs and technology transfer brokers work closely with regional governments, research institutes and universities, while the European network guarantees a large market and outreach for our successful start-ups and transfers.
These partners are a source of leverage, extending the effectiveness of ESA’s investment – the Agency only ends up bearing a third of the cost of each new BIC. The result has been new hi-tech companies, jobs and growth across Europe, bolstering our continent’s global competitiveness and prosperity.