More than 200 representatives from European small and medium size enterprises (SME) participated in the workshop “Space for new ideas: Big opportunities for small enterprises,” held at ESRIN, 16 December 2002.
“In the third millennium, Europe aims to become the most competitive and dynamic region of the world based on knowledge,” said David Raitt, Senior Technology Transfer Officer, ESA, to open the session, “Space activities will provide a fundamental and strategic contribution towards achieving this objective, stimulating innovation and technological developments.”
The workshop was the annual showcase of how space technologies can increase industry competitiveness. Co-organised by D’Appolonia, the Italian technology broker and member of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme network, it presented some of the initiatives from ESA and EU supporting entrepreneurs and small companies in Europe.
The focus was on SMEs. Their key role in the European future was emphasized by Franco Malerba, Italy’s first astronaut and Chairman of the Advisory Board for ESINET, the European Space Incubator Network.
“It is generally recognized that innovation and technology research comes from new players, SMEs,” he said.
How to create business with space technology transfer?
Today ESA spends about €250 million on its Technology Research Programme, about 8% of ESA budget. Approximately 150 space technologies in the past 10 years have been transformed into innovative solutions for non-space application. An additional 450 space technologies are ready to be used in new transfers.
These space technologies have resolved problems in industrial fields very different from those they were developed for, often with a beneficial cost effect. This flow of technology and know-how started when ESA set up its Technology Transfer and Promotion Office over 10 years ago.
The results have accelerated industrial progress, escalated business for space industries, fostered new companies and even saved millions of Euros in research, development and maintenance, by reusing already available technologies from space.
ESA established a network of nine European brokers to match up potential ESA technologies with industrial needs and arrange the exchange of technologies.
Space incubators for entrepreneurs
ESA’s TTP activity has spun-off more than 25 new companies with hundreds of new jobs. As a result of this experience, ESA started this year the European Space Incubator (ESI) to assists entrepreneurs with ideas how space technology can be used in non-space fields.
“With ESI, we want to accelerate this process and be an active catalyst in the creation of space spin-offs companies using space technology in non-space fields,” said Bruno Naulais, Manager of European Space Incubator at ESA. “We have a so-called nursery to support the selected entrepreneurs through the first difficult year and help them prepare a viable business plan.”
According to Naulais, ESA will host six entrepreneurs in 2003, and a maximum of 15 by 2005. The nursery will assist the entrepreneur for a year in forming his company, then continue to provide help up to an additional two years in the so-called greenhouse.
To join forces with other incubators, ESA launched last July together with the EC research directorate, the European Space Incubator Network (ESINET) with more than 20 existing incubators in Europe.
“One of the important tasks of ESINET is to help new businesses to get access to fund. This can be ESA co-funding, EC co-funding under for example the 6th Framework Programme and even venture capital,” stressed Andrea Barbagelata, Coordinator of the ESINET Management Board.
SME and telecommunications - ARTES
“ARTES is ESA’s programme for advanced research in telecommunications systems with the objective to promote the competitive position of companies in ESA Member states in Europe and Canada,” said Francesco Feliciani, Telecommunication Department in ESA. Although ARTES originally was not tailored for small companies, 43% of all projects have been led by SMEs.
Since SMEs often are short of resources, the procedure of entering ARTES has been simplified as much as possible, “we just ask initially a short two page presentation, and first when accepted the company must prepare a complete proposal,” emphasized Feliciani.
Opportunities in the 6th Framework Programme
The European Commissions 6th Framework Programme (FP6) provides great opportunities for European SMEs. The FP6 total budget is €17 500 million, of which €2100 million has been earmarked to SMEs.
Nisso Gargir, from EU Commission for Research, said that it is the first time that the word, ‘Space’, appears explicitly in the EU programme. With space applications becoming a more integrated part of everyday life, FP6 will finance research in downstream application of space systems, and not the development of the space segments. “That’s ESA’s job,” he stressed.
Xavier Goenaga, Head of the Research and SMEs Unit in EU Commission for Research, presented briefly the opportunities in the three main areas, GMES, Galileo and broadband satellite telecommunication. The reason for allocating specific funds exclusively for SMEs is that they have shown to be more efficient that large industries and that SMEs are the best source of employment in Europe today, Goenaga said.
“But SMEs who want to take part in FP6 should identify and team up with the leaders in the specific field they want to enter,” he advised.
In the large FP6 programmes, SMEs must account for 15% of the work. In the programmes dedicated to smaller businesses, two or more SMEs must team up together with research institutes.
Since October 2000, the Columbus Module on International Space Station (ISS) has provided facilities for European research. The overall motivation for ESA to commercialize ISS is to offer a new source of competitive advantage to European industry. “On board ISS, companies can carry out tests which are not possible on Earth without the effects of gravity,” said Maurizio Belingheri, Head of the ISS Commercialization Division in ESA.
Prime candidates include companies engaged in research in among others biotechnology, new materials and medicine. For example, experiments for understanding the serious illness, osteoporosis, could benefit from a non-gravity condition.
The next flight opportunities occur in April, July and October 2003, but even if this leaves little time for preparation, Maurizio Belingheri emphasized that ESA has extensive experience in helping clients to get their experiments on-board ISS.
“In some cases we have managed to adapt and set-up our clients test systems within three months,” he said.