Science Park Graz is home to one of the most elite startup programmes of the European Union – European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC). This achievement reflects the fact that Graz is a driving force in the field of excellent universities, space sciences, competences in space missions, and building space instruments. At the same time, Science Park is the oldest Austrian high-tech incubator and has a lot of experience in creating some of the strongest Austrian companies, such as Tyromotion, Imagotag and Sunnybag. According to the director of Science Park Graz, Martin Mössler, their excellent consulting team offers extensive support in business operations, financing, and networking of high-tech startups with global ambitions, while at the same time ensuring all the necessary lab and office infrastructure. So, if you are interested in business opportunities in space or collaboration with the Austrian startup ecosystem, talk to the Science Park Graz and the ESA BIC team to arrange a meeting at this year’s PODIM, where they are coming as our PODIM Challenge partner.
What are the concrete programmes, projects, infrastructure, knowledge and competences … with which Science Park Graz is supporting innovative tech startups?
Thorough business support, network support, funding schemes as well as provision of laboratory and office infrastructure, Science Park Graz and its excellency-driven consulting team offer a one-stop-shop to startups in their scale-up phase.
What kind of startups are you supporting and what is your criteria for selecting startups that will receive support from Science Park Graz?
Only high-tech startups with international ambitions are selected. Team, vision, leadership, business model and the ability to think international are critical during selection.
How come it was exactly Science Park Graz that became the home of the ESA Business Incubation Centre in Austria? What kind of competences, knowledge, technologies, infrastructure … are needed for this?
Science Park is extremely proud of having been able to convince the European Space Agency to house the European Union’s most elitist startup programme, ESA BIC, in Graz. Graz is a powerhouse when it comes to great universities, space sciences, space mission competence and the building of space-related instruments. Furthermore, Science Park is Austria’s oldest high-tech incubator with a an extremely powerful track record in successful company creations – some of the strongest Austrian startup companies (Tyromotion, Imagotag, Sunnybag etc.) were founded with the support of this incubator. Furthermore, Graz as a location and the Science Park Graz team with its ESA aligned competence portfolio serves as Hub for the European Space Agency’s Business incubation activities in the Balkans. These elements put together make Science Park the ideal partner for ESA.
What exactly does it mean for Graz, Austria and, last but not least, also for the Alps-Adriatic region that Science Park Graz is the home of the ESA BIC?
It makes us by far the strongest incubator in Austria, and beyond. With no other programme resonating that powerfully, being part of the ESA BIC network creates unmatched opportunities for us as an incubator as well as for our startups. For the region of Styria and the city of Graz it is a symbol of excellence and a direct result of being Europe’s number one region when it comes to R&D spending. No other Austrian or European region invests more into R&D than Styria. This mattered considerably to ESA. From an Austrian perspective it means a lot to be hosting one of the Space Agency’s biggest business incubators, with basically only France and Germany outranking us. The ESA BIC is a symbol and a sign of Austria’s leadership in space-related, but also classic high-tech developments. Most importantly, it is a symbol for an open and internationalist approach.
Besides Science Park Graz being the home of the ESA BIC, what are other significant advantages and activities that increase your offer’s attractiveness to startups (please mention here all your other regular or occasional programmes and projects that include startups from Austria and the region, such as for example the Startup Idea Competition etc.)?
Being closely linked to science and research, supported and owned by the three excellent Styrian universities, and housed at the heart of TU Graz, are elements critical to our success. Furthermore, close affiliations with business and industry play a crucial role for the dynamism we exhale. Where startup support programmes are concerned, we have created a tailored approach to support our startups.
The most important thing when developing a company, is to shoot the ball further than you can see, and then run after it. That is what I require the companies I work with to do. Whenever things are easy and seem to be under perfect control, you might be confronted with a problem. In the scale-up phase few things go according to plan, the flexibility to change course and still keep the momentum despite challenges, is the basis for successful startups. Probably also for a successful life in general.
If we look at space as a promising business opportunity and an opportunity for digitalizing the economy – what are the key technologies, domains and use cases that you think can be introduced to the business and economic sector the fastest?
We face incredible challenges in the field of autonomous drive and flight, with autonomous flight being closer to daily reality than any other field. Navigation data with a strong focus on navigation stability will be key. Space-related cryptography, as well as data compression and telemetry formats deriving from space will be part of important future technologies. Data centers in space will provide secure data hubs for companies wanting to keep their data safe from unfriendly interference. Small cubesats, which get incredibly powerful through constellation setups, will bring democratisation to space. This is a good process, allowing space agencies such as ESA to work on missions, which may be changing the way we see the world as well as the way we live. This is what Space Sciences stand for: new thinking, creativity, cooperation between countries which in the past used to fight each other; working for the better of humanity, driven by a passion to explore, accepting no limits.
And on the other hand – in which areas are the biggest disruptions of the existing space industries and technologies happening? Who are the main actors behind these disruptions and what new opportunities does all this bring to innovative high-tech startups and companies?
This question is fair, but pretty close to your previous one, so I see a strong point to refer our readers to the answer provided above.
What are Science Park Graz’s main activities for collaboration with the regional startup ecosystem and what do you think is the role of the PODIM Conference in this?
We need to make the spirit of cooperation and entrepreneurial creativity go cross-country and cross-border. Working closely with PODIM is a privilege to me, as I personally believe that borders are not much more than an outdated way to brand national identities. If we want to move into economies and societies of the future, we need to think in markets and mutual values of peaceful cooperation, rather than limiting ourselves and our thinking through demarcation lines. And that is what PODIM and Science Park do through their partnership. PODIM conference, in my opinion, should be the initial launcher to work on mutually enriching missions in the next months and years. Together I see the chance to build the basis for a cross-country innovation powerhouse.
What are your expectations and goals for this year’s PODIM and who in your team is the person who can be contacted by the interested individuals and teams that will be attending this year’s PODIM?
I expect great ideas, lovely people and a lot of uplifting entrepreneurial spirits. I will be personally present during the conference, together with the team.
Get in touch with the ESA BIC Austria & Science Park Graz team
If you wish to collaborate with the ESA BIC Austria & Science Park Graz team and arrange a meeting with them, please run requests through Sabrina Petutschnig (firstname.lastname@example.org
Most space technologies can be transformed into solutions for aviation, automobile industry and consumer apps
We talked briefly about the state of business projects for space in Slovenia with dr. Iztok Kramberger, leader of the lab for electronic and IT systems at the Maribor Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and team member of SkyLabs, developing nano-satellites with the before-mentioned lab.
Dr. Kramberger, which programmes, projects or examples of knowledge transfer from the academic sphere to the economy in the domain of space and space technologies exist in Slovenia?
I think there is no established model for collaboration between the academic world and the industry. Currently, the academic world is focused most on ensuring “suitable” staff for the industry, which requires a lot more funds in technology than it does in other fields, because it is necessary to ensure modern equipment for the development of technology and achieving technological breakthroughs. Promotion of engineering is also important, because we are lacking students.
Your lab still succeeded in establishing collaboration with companies such as SkyLabs, CosyLab and Dewesoft …
Simply said, when it comes to knowledge transfer from the academic world to the industry, the financial scale needs to be balanced and trust has to exist on both sides. Here, I’m convinced that it is first necessary to create trust, and only then balance finance on it, which is typically the primary task on the academic side. In the field of space tech, we are mostly working with SkyLabs, and some with CosysLab and Dewesoft. Some project applications were also focused on remote Earth observation.
You are also actively collaborating with ESA, can you tell us something more about these projects?
True. Together with SkyLabs, we are working on projects for ESA such as TRISAT and similar tech-oriented projects. We are also helping with tech solutions that SkyLabs needs for systems for their customers, which include Nasa JPL, Syderal, Teletel, DHV, Tales Alenia, LuxSpace, etc. With ESA programmes, we are mostly active within the GSTP programme, and we started preparing applied solutions in the EO programme, which will additionally enrich the tech level in applications. We are also contending for the scientifically-oriented programme Prodex, where the first potential tech solutions needed by ESA are shown.
Which technologies and solutions currently “reserved” for space do you think can spread to use in the economic sector?
Technologically speaking, most technologies that we’re developing for the space sector can be transformed into tech solutions in the fields of aviation, automobile industry and finally also general consumer applications. Despite this, it is difficult to define where the most realistic possibilities for companies entering the space sector are. It is necessary to distinguish the scientific segment from the commercial one. Scientific space applications are actually oriented more towards modern technology, because alongside new technologies there are tendencies to apply them to space, which enables scientists to make new discoveries about our nature. In commercial apps, there is no other obstacle than a “sensible” business model. Recently, commercial applications have been coming to the foreground, with technology playing a key role in the sense of reducing the costs of building satellite systems and the costs of their railing. In terms of applications, apps for telecommunications and remote Earth observation are in the lead, but in the long term there will be a rise in space tourism, asteroid and planet mining with the purpose of mining and populating other planets (such as Mars). In telecommunications, new systems for wireless internet and telephony, networks for smart sensors based on the Internet of Things, tracking for logistics and similar are being developed. In remote Earth observation, things are moving towards monitoring in real time. Both fields demand so-called mega constellations with a big number of satellites, which confirms the fact that it is necessary to drastically decrease the costs of building satellites and their railing.
What about micro and nano satellites, which are SkyLabs’ field of activity?
In this sense, micro and nano satellites can of course play their own role, because building and railing them is fairly cheap. Managing such a great number of satellites demands an autonomous distributed satellite system, because otherwise it is not possible to manage them or the costs of managing are too great and don’t justify the business models. We’re reaching a high level of satellite autonomy with distributed systems on the satellite’s deck, similar as on the mobile phone, and this is where tech solutions from the Slovenian company SkyLabs play a key role. The tech solutions of SkyLabs are based on two breakthrough technologies that were completely tested in three different environments of extreme radiation, together with and under the control of the ESA. With these tech solutions, we’re also addressing European tech independence, because lately there has been quite some opposition between the EU and the US and other important regions, where the EU has lost a fair bit in its own technologies.
You also mentioned space tourism and mining …
Space tourism is a peculiar industry that of course demands incredibly high entry costs, which we can observe in the US. Regarding mining, China is rather active, but Europe has been turning towards this direction as well. We are preparing an interesting tech solution, which is addressing asteroid mining as well as populating other planets, but we are fairly restrained when it comes to revealing information, because in many cases in the past, we were the target of technological copying by other countries, including EU member states. Intellectual property protection in the field of space technologies is fairly undeveloped in the EU and US as well. In any case, all space apps are connected to “high” costs and as such, it is difficult to obtain financing for a good business model, because there are few potential investors who can manage it, most of them outside the EU.