ESA Business Incubation Centre is now open: Tartu Observatory helps start-ups bring their ideas to life

Last week, on November 7, 2017 the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre - the first one in the Baltics – was opened in Estonia. The incubation centre will give start-ups a chance to make their space-related ideas real. Tartu Observatory is one of the partners of the incubation centre.

The grand opening took place at European Space week. The incubator was opened by ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner.

“Of course it is a big step for the Estonian space industry,” senior research fellow at Tartu Observatory Riho Vendt believes. He thinks the ESA business incubation programme will raise the competitiveness of Estonian entrepreneurs both on the European open market and in ESA procurements.

This is the first ESA business incubation centre in Baltics. There are 17 incubation centres in total. The peculiarity of the Estonian incubation programme is taking innovative space technology applications into use here on Earth. For instance, using the Copernicus programme data in agriculture or monitoring road bridge safety.

Tartu Observatory is one of the ESA Estonian Business Incubator partners. The observatory offers start-ups scientific support and the opportunity to use space technology laboratories. “Launching a new product or service onto the market is not as easy as it might seem. Even if we are dealing with top engineers and a brilliant invention,” Vendt said. He described that nowadays, only building an innovative device that works is not enough. To bring a new product onto the market or send it to space, it must be safe, reliable and compatible with other systems already in use.

“We have many examples from real life about how start-ups – by now our good partners – have come to test the prototype of a finished product in our laboratories. But then it has turned out that a significant invention that works perfectly doesn’t meet some requirements and has to be redesigned in order to bring it onto the market,” Vendt explained. This is why the observatory offers consultations and tests already in the early development stage.

The ESA Business Incubation Programme Network has helped more than 500 start-ups successfully reach the market. „Traditionally, the developers of space technology have been huge corporations with long history. Nowadays, in the rapidly developing world, there’s a bigger need for fast, flexible, and innovative solutions. Those are the kind of solutions that young start-ups could offer,” Vendt said.

He described that the candidates suitable for the space business incubator are enterprises which are not older than five years, have a clear connection to space technology and meet the EU SME (Small and Medium Size Enterprises) standards. The space business incubation programme lasts for 24 months and allows a start-up to receive business development support up to 50 000 euros.

Among others, ESA key persons, representatives of the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, officials, academics, research institute representatives and entrepreneurs attended the opening of the incubation centre.

Besides Tartu Observatory, the partners of the business incubation programme are Tartu Science Park, Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology, the towns of Tartu and Tallinn, and KredEx.

Photo: Rasmus Kooskora/The Estonian Space Office…