8.23.09Promise of Tomorrow - eSpace company, Net-Centric Design Professionals
8.23.09Promise of Tomorrow - eSpace company, Space Awareness Services
8.09.09Promise of Tomorrow - eSpace company, Zybek Advanced Products
8.09.09Promise of Tomorrow - eSpace company, Zybek Advanced Products
8.02.09The Promise of Tomorrow - The eSpace Mission
8.02.09The Promise of Tomorrow - The eSpace Mission
2.16.09Colorado Matters eSpace Interview
Over the past several months Diane and I have been privileged to talk to more than 30 potential space entrepreneurs that have brought their vision for a new product or venture to us for possible involvement with the eSpace incubator. ¬†What a variety of ventures this has represented and what a wonderful look into the future of aerospace; ¬†solar powered planes that never need refueling, new types of rockets that are “green” and re-useable, companies to provide commercial access to the moon, high efficiency power supplies for ion engines, zero-gravity experiences as a way of exciting and educating students.
¬†Of the 30 ventures we looked at, more than half of them were strong incubator candidates. ¬†Wanting to start gently to make sure we get it right, we chose to go forward with a small, select group for this first round.
Three companies have been invited to be the first round of participants in the eSpace incubator: Zybek Advanced Products, Special Aerospace Services and Net-Centric Design Professionals. ¬†Each of the companies has been coupled with a seasoned space entrepreneur as a mentor to help them utilize the extensive resources of the eSpace incubator and to provide mentorship and strategic guidance.¬†
The ventures are about as varied as you could be and still be within the ¬†domain of “space”. ¬†A company that manufactures near-exact duplicates of dust on other planets, a company that uses earth-bound telescopes to predict when orbital junk might collide, a company that creates systems so that what a spacecraft senses shows up on your laptop instantly in the best possible way for you to use it. ¬†In addition to the high innovation represented by the ventures, we are as excited about the people that we will get to work work with. ¬†It is inspiring to be with these folks. Mike Z, German, Sheryl, Mike S, Jeff, Chris and the rest of the teams all share an excitement about “what could be”. ¬†They can see a future where their technology or venture has become manifest, and just being around them you see it too. ¬†¬†Once you hear ¬†in their words what they are going to create, ¬†you catch their passion, you too believe it could happen, and you cannot help but be swept up and want to help that come to be. ¬†
We look forward to the coming year and discovering what each of these ventures will become. ¬†And we look forward to the next round of discussions with emerging entrepreneurs as we develop our next round of eSpace incubator participants. ¬†
If you are an emerging space entrepreneur we want to hear from you. ¬†Contact us. ¬†Share you vision. ¬†Let’s see if eSpace can help.
What is your exit strategy?
Or in other words….how and when are you as an entrepreneur going to create a financial reward for you and your investors for ¬†the blood sweat and tears that have been put into your venture? ¬†The range of responses to this question from entrepreneurs is broad, with some having clear strategies, and others squirming uncomfortably with the question: ¬†Exit? ¬†I Love This! ¬†Why would I exit? ¬†Whether it is something that will happen next year or is 20 years away, it is an important question that deserves a well thought through answer.¬†
Aaron Rose visited eSpace yesterday. ¬†It was time well spent for us, as he is ¬†connected and involved in a variety of entrepreneurial domains that are not space, but that share common ground with eSpace. ¬†He is also the author of popular blog solutions for a sustainable world¬†. ¬†
Aaron teaches entrepreneurship, and promotes to his students the counterintuitive concept that the best exit is not necessarily the sale of a company. ¬†Entrepreneurs are driven by a variety of motivations, one of which being to create wealth quickly, but often other values are behind the entrepreneurial drive, not the least of which is to create a place to work that supports the quality of life for those within the organization, and for that influence to be as broad as possible. ¬†The potential problem with a “sale of company” exit, is that the quality of life of the entrepreneur themselves might be catalyzed by the wealth, but the acquiring company is likely to have a narrower, financially focused agenda, with the result that the entrepreneur wins financially, but ¬†the individuals within the company that share the vision are left behind in an organization that does not carry the “quality of life” torch forward in the same way. ¬†
This is particularly true with the ¬†technoentrepreneurs that start companies within space. ¬†The motivations for starting the company are often less “to make money and retire quickly” than to create a unique context for themselves and others to do what they love to do and be paid well for it. ¬† As I’ve talked to other space entrepreneurs that have sold their companies, they have shared that the conversation by the acquiring company prior to sale almost always emphasizes the importance and value of the culture that has been created, with heart-felt assurances that this will continue into the future. However; those promises do not always survive the requirement that a merger perform financially. ¬†I am aware of one particular situation ten years ago where that promise lasted for about 24 hours, terminating with a “we are going to do it differently now” speech to the assembled company the day after the merger closed. ¬†¬†I consider myself fortunate that in the case of the sale of ¬†Starsys Research to SpaceDev, those promises were kept, and the company continued forward with a unique culture that emphasized quality of life..
Aaron’s point of view was to look at exit more broadly; ¬†create an organization that has at its heart a robust financial model that is a strong enough generator of cash to provide liquidity to shareholders through its operation rather than through its sale. ¬†From the get-go, make decisions about what business you will be in, how you will do business, from a focus on “how can I return my investment to shareholders without having to sell the company”. ¬†In space this is a challenge, and takes non-linear thinking about how to sell something different than services or products within a cost reimburseable model, but is is do-able and two companies come to mind that have done this very well, thank you. ¬† The advantage of such a thing is the exit strategy ¬†has ¬†degrees of freedom…the financial reward for the entrepreneurs and investors is already in place, allowing the consideration of gentler transitions that accommodate a broader set of values, and ones that better serve all involved.
Mike Weinstein had encouraged me to come by this week as the plasma gun would be up and running. How could I say no to that? ¬†Walking in the entrance of the industrial building there was a familiar smell of rock and dust and heat, which puzzled me until I remembered my grandfathers basement, with it’s rock cutters and polishers and tumblers. ¬† ¬†Mike introduced himself with a grin, a quick wipe of dusty hands on jeans and a handshake. ¬†I followed him up some stairs to a room that looked as bright as the sun. I expected the “we can’t go in there right now” ¬†speech but instead had a welding helmet handed to me with a quick “you gotta see this”! ¬†I put the helmet on, was immediately unable to see a thing, ¬†and cautiously made my way into the next room, trying to keep clear, by ¬†feel, of what I assumed must be at least a 400 kv power supply. ¬†In the center of the room was indeed a sun; ¬†a plasma arc melting rock, which turned to glass and streamed out of the bottom of the furnace in a 10 ft long thin strand of lava into a quenching bucket below. Mike and his team were making moon dust. Incredible!
Mike and his colleague Sheryl Genco explained the business. ¬†Zybek Advanced Plasma ¬†is pretty much the only company in the world that can exactly match the composition and morphology of lunar soil. ¬†They have figured out how to use plasma to duplicate what happens to rocks when they are changed by the heat and energy of a meteorite explosion. ¬† So what? ¬†As NASA heads¬†back to the moon, it is very important that we know how thing will behave up there; ¬†will the drills work, will the bearings on the rovers last, how hard will it be to excavate the soil?¬†Zybek makes the stuff that allows NASA to answer those questions. ¬†And it will likely need a lot of moon soil to do so.
As an entrepreneurial space company, Zybek is as unusual as it is typical. ¬†A unique, important niche business created because the team is very, very good in their area of expertise; ¬†in this case, melting rocks with electricity. They connected with NASA, and NASA asked them to try to do something that NASA thought was pretty much impossible. ¬†Turns out they could. ¬†
In the past two months Diane Dimeff, the Center Director and I ¬†have been contacted by more than a dozen companies. ¬†All quite different, all with great stories, most are exciting opportunities. As part of the process of deciding who eSpace can best support, we are being introduced to some really exciting developing companies. ¬†I had been invited to Zybek to see what they are doing after ¬†Mike had heard about what we were doing and thought that his company might be a good candidate for ¬†an eSpace company; ¬†a team with a great technology, needed by NASA, looking for a partner that could help them with the ins and outs of developing into a thriving successful space business. ¬†Zybek does look like a great fit and be great fun to work with. ¬†We look forward to a developing relationship and will keep you posted…
It has been quite a ride these past couple of weeks. ¬†There was much thinking on our end prior to launch, ¬†”If we build it they will come”, or possibly “If we build it will they come?”. ¬†The response to eSpace has been beyond what we expected. We have had a continual string of space entrepreneurs contacting us to see how they can be involved, with products as varied as methane rocket engines to secondary payload providers to companies reducing risk for launch providers to lunar X-prize contenders to companies developing FPGA electronics for use in space. ¬†From companies that are well established and looking to get to the next level, to individuals with good ideas but looking to develop a business. ¬†The question is quickly shifting to “now that they are coming, how and who best to partner and support…”
The exiting thing personally is the diversity….all we have talked to can likely benefit from the right resources applied, but each situation is very different.
It has also been good to connect with other organizations working the challenge of forwarding aerospace entrepreneurship. ¬†We met with two of these recently to talk about how to best to work together; ¬† Space Angel’s Network and the Colorado Aerospace Innovation Center, a partnership of the Boulder Innovation Center and the Eighth Continent Project.
Burton Lee is the Director of Space Angel’s network. ¬†He has been in the middle of space entrepreneurship for several years now, looking to pair opportunities with his investor network. ¬†You can take a look at his organization at www.spaceangelsnetwork.com.We will be working with Space Angels network as a potential funding source for ventures that have the kind of potential rate of return that are attractive to equity investors. ¬†Burton’s entrepreneurial involvement is broad. ¬†He was recently appointed to the Stanford faculty to head up ¬†¬†”European Entrepreneurism” as an area of study at the University.
Burke Forte of Eighth Continent and Tim Bour of the Boulder Innovation Center have developed the Eighth Continent ¬†Aerospace Incubator, based on a powerful model the Boulder Innovation Center has developed for creating new companies from promising technologies. Their focus is on developing companies that utilize technologies deriving from, or related to aerospace. ¬†Our organizations will be looking to cross-strap as we support ventures that can benefit from each others capabilities.
Let me be the first to welcome you to eSpace! My name is Scott Tibbitts.¬† I am the Executive Director of eSpace, and the founder of an entrepreneurial space company called Starsys Research Corporation.¬† The creation of Starsys was an amazing experience, starting from a small water heater wax actuator that NASA believed could help them replace explosives on spacecraft and then, over 20 years, developing into one of the world‚Äôs leading suppliers of mechanisms for spacecraft.¬†¬†¬† Through all of this, we came to realize what a unusual and powerful thing an entrepreneurial space company can be ‚Äď the innovations they spawn, the exciting workplace they can provide, and the passionate workforce they create.
eSpace has been formed to help aerospace entrepreneurs realize their dreams ‚Äď to¬† help them start their own journeys, to connect them with technologies and resources they need to be successful, and to encourage their companies as well as their employees.¬† I believe these companies contribute significantly to the nation‚Äôs resources, and that much good will come from helping them succeed.¬† I look forward to working and chatting with you here as we look under the hood at not only what makes these companies special, but at how we can help them to thrive.¬† As ‚ÄúAirborne‚ÄĚ Edward Ferguson, the famous freestyle skier of the ‚Äė70‚Äôs, once said, ‚ÄúIf God would have meant for us NOT to fly, he would have given us roots.‚ÄĚ
The University of Colorado at Boulder and SpaceDev Inc. announce the ‚Ä®launch of eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship
Academic and industry partnership formed to create entrepreneurial space companies and ‚Ä®develop a skilled workforce to support them.
BOULDER, Colo. ‚Äď Jan. 26, 2009 ‚Äď The University of Colorado at Boulder, a national leader in aerospace engineering, and SpaceDev Inc., a leading entrepreneurial space company located in Louisville, Colorado, have partnered to create eSpace:¬† The Center for Space Entrepreneurship. eSpace is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating new entrepreneurial space companies, commercializing aerospace technologies created within these companies, and developing the aerospace workforce to support them.
‚ÄúWe believe entrepreneurial space companies are innovation engines that are transforming how we get to, utilize, and explore space,‚ÄĚ said Scott Tibbitts, executive director for eSpace. Tibbitts, an entrepreneur himself, founded Starsys Research, which three years ago was acquired by SpaceDev, now a fully owned subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation. ‚ÄúBy providing access to the academic resources of the university, grants to promising space entrepreneurs, and access to both the manufacturing infrastructure of SpaceDev and a network of experienced aerospace entrepreneurs, we expect to create a fertile environment for ensuring the best possible chance of success for start-up space companies,‚ÄĚ said Tibbitts.
eSpace is unique in its approach to supporting the creation of these companies by lowering the barriers for entry to an absolute minimum. Primary funding to support the $1 million launch of eSpace is provided by a grant from the Metro Denver WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) initiative with additional funding by the Colorado Office of Economic Development, the University of Colorado, SpaceDev, and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
SpaceDev, located only 10 minutes from the University of Colorado at Boulder, will provide the physical space for the start-up companies, allowing them to benefit from the process control systems, quality systems, clean rooms, and test equipment already on its site. In addition, co-location with SpaceDev enables new entrepreneurs to ‚Äúrub shoulders‚ÄĚ with one of the nation‚Äôs premier entrepreneurial space companies. In its first year, eSpace will provide five $20,000 grants to promising entrepreneurs to help support new entrepreneurial space companies.
The University of Colorado and the Colorado space industry will be primary sources for new technologies and entrepreneurs to seed the eSpace incubator. To accelerate this process, eSpace will directly fund an eSpace Venture Design program through a $90,000 grant to the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences that will support three hands-on projects for graduate student teams to design aerospace technologies with commercial applications and the potential to transition into eSpace‚Äôs incubator. The projects will be coordinated at the University of Colorado by Joe Tanner, a highly accomplished former astronaut and member of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences faculty. The initial round of eSpace funded technologies includes:
The ‚ÄúColorado Student Space Weather Experiment” to develop nano-satellites that can improve the prediction of solar storms and their effects on the earth.
A ‚ÄúMini Jet Engine‚ÄĚ for unmanned aerial vehicles.
‚ÄúSmartSondes for Atmospheric Sensing‚ÄĚ to provide a remote control unmanned aerial system that can measure micro-weather effects near storms and wildfires.
‚ÄúThe availability of design project courses at the graduate level with opportunities to receive support for a new business venture may be unequaled by any other aerospace department in the nation,‚ÄĚ said Jeffrey M. Forbes, chair of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department. ‚ÄúWe intend to provide an unprecedented support structure for aerospace innovation and technology development at CU-Boulder.‚ÄĚ
The workforce development mission of eSpace also will be accomplished through the innovative eSpace Straight to Space (S2S) program by providing on-the-job training grants of $1,000 to $4,000 to high school graduates and community college students and placing them in existing entrepreneurial space companies along Colorado‚Äôs Front Range.
Diane Dimeff will be the director of eSpace and will be responsible for its leadership and day-to-day operations. Dimeff, previously the associate dean of Carnegie Mellon University‚Äôs Silicon Valley campus, brings to eSpace a history of working with both academia and industry to conceive of and build entrepreneurial programs. Addressing its mission, Dimeff said, ‚ÄúeSpace is an exceptional opportunity for collaboration among industry, government, and education to create jobs, commercialize research, and incubate new businesses.‚ÄĚ
Oversight and stewardship will be provided by a board of directors and board of advisors comprised of nationally recognized leaders in aerospace entrepreneurship, aerospace education, and high technology businesses.
‚ÄúEntrepreneurial space companies are a national resource to be nurtured and developed,‚ÄĚ said Tibbitts. ‚ÄúThe innovations they provide are making space exploration more affordable and accessible to humankind. In upcoming years, we expect that the methods we use to get to, utilize, and explore space will be transformed from government-supported endeavors to private, entrepreneurial ventures. eSpace intends to be an important part of that transformation.‚ÄĚ
For More Information
Media contact‚Ä®Scott Tibbitts
Executive Director, eSpace