I had the incredible opportunity to get a trip to San Fran as part of the New South Wales government’s Space Bootcamp program which was also developed with Austrade.
This bootcamp was an opportunity to immersive myself and several other space startups from NSW, the space activity in the US and also see how the companies and startups thrive in the US and more specifically in San Fran, the startup capital of world.
We visited several space companies including Planet, NanoRacks, NASA, Descartes Labs, CASIS, SSL, LeoLabs, Astro Digital, Deep Space Industries and Singularity University. Each of these space companies/organisations offered a perspective unique to their own and to their own ambitions. We had upfront conversations early stage companies but also amazed by the work from the major space companies.
Also, we heard from SF based professionals about working in the US, business activity, and immigration aspects. Viki Forrest from ANZA Technology Network, Kathy Woeber Gardner of Montgomery Pacific, Elizabeth Jamae of Pearl Law, Marc Lim of Andersen Tax, Luba Lesiva of L4C advisory, Mick Liubinskas of Activatd, Sean Casey of Silicon Valley Space Center and John Booher of Sheppard Mullin.
Having upfront discussions about challenges faced by these well known companies shed new light on the environment Space Ops exists, it’s not easy for everyone in the space sector and we all still have to ‘hussle’ to get activity and money flowing.
A key take away point was the appreciation of market sizing and heritage. The US and in particular San Fran, is built on the experiences and know how of the previous generations. They appear to move at warp-speeds by comparison in Australia but that’s is only because the pioneers of the space sector were made during the early years of NASA. The Silicon Valley ambition and drive couples with that space heritage to make a potent blend of unicorn fuel. But that all happens when there is a market and that is just as important. The space market is global in the context of Australia. In Australia, the overall space sector particularly launch is still new, there are very few internal (in Australia) customers, but there are plenty in the US and EU.
This fact may seem simple enough, but it took a trip to the US to truly appreciate that fact.
After the trip, what does it mean for all of us at Space Ops and in Australia? We face a unique set of challenges.
We are playing on the global market, that is clear. Every space company in Australia by default must be doing customer development overseas but of course remember your local Australian friends (mates rates $$$).
Since we compete globally, we have to lift our game and have a sense to drive ourselves further. The sense to push harder and faster in SF was a feeling we don’t sense in Australia. We just don’t have that pressure or urgency because the local space market is still new. We are the first generation of new space companies with no local competition.
Being innovative means to take on the impossible and not being the perfectionist. As an engineer in training, we feel the need to be exact and that means to not go beyond the comfort zone. This is in direct conflict with being a startup. Startup life is not perfect, the plan from one day to the next can change dramatically. But for a sector like space, there needs to be innovation and boldness to just try. Launch is by nature is a challenge but it is an activity that can affect many people down the launch range. The bar has been set to not accept failure, because we cannot afford the loss of life. The sector cannot afford the loss of life.
The companies we visited have each found a niche to enable them to live on. What is Space Ops’ niche? We have a working theory on that post SF trip.
What is next? We will continue our primary mission of reaching space but on the side we will develop more collaborative projects to build our technology readiness level. Of importance is to build international relations.
Finally, I must thank the NSW gov team for their amazing organisational skills and amazing insight with who to have meetups whilst in SF. @Austrade and the @LandingPadsAU team at SF for being amazing hosts. Thanks to all the companies’ we visited and guest speakers who gave their time generously.