Breeding ground for young space spin-off firms

STFC & ESA MoU signing for ESA Business Incubation Centre Harwell
3 December 2010

ESA’s latest Business Incubation Centre, at Harwell in the UK, was launched yesterday in the presence of ESA’s Director of Science, Mr David Southwood and Keith Mason, the Chief Executive of Science and Technology Facilities Council. Ten start-up companies will be supported each year to transfer space technology down to Earth.

Like the other four Business Incubation Centres (BICs), Harwell’s will offer young companies and business start-ups an ideal environment for using aerospace technology and expertise in marketable new products.

As part of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme, the centres help inventors, entrepreneurs, university and technical college graduates to transform their innovative ideas into reality as rapidly as possible.

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus
Harwell Science and Innovation Campus

“We support the entrepreneurs right from the beginning to getting their businesses running, with technical, managerial and marketing support– areas where inventors and start-ups often lack experience in to turn their ideas into viable businesses,” explained Frank M. Salzgeber, Head of ESA's Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO).

“To date, more than 100 company start-ups have been supported and guided towards business.”

STFC & ESA MoU signing
At the signature for ESA BIC Harwell

Located at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, the new BIC provides a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to access world-class scientific facilities and research. More than 4500 researchers, engineers and innovators from over 150 high-tech organisations, many start-up companies and multinational organisations across a wide range of scientific and technological sectors are working on the campus.

ESA BIC Harwell will be managed by STFC Innovations Limited, the technology transfer office of one of Europe’s largest multi-discipline scientific organisations, the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.

STFC Innovation has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs and start-up companies, resulted in 15 spin-out companies, many of which were grown from technologies that were originally developed for space. STFC Innovations also operates as the UK broker of the ESA Technology Transfer Network.

Scientist in lab at Harwell Oxford

“The whole rationale behind ESA BIC Harwell is to grow the spin-offs from space technologies and the downstream business. We want to create an environment of collaborative R&D to help the companies and which can absorb some of the costs,” explained Paul Vernon, STFC Innovations.

ESA BIC Harwell is funded by ESA and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council with the scope to commercialise space technologies and the use of satellite systems to boost new businesses, enabling them to offer competitive products and services in non-space markets.

Mr Vernon adds, “A lot of the entrepreneurs and companies that can supply solutions by use of advanced technologies from space will not necessarily be engaged in the space sector. So it is also about making them aware of the opportunities.”

The target is to create 10 new companies a year at ESA BIC Harwell.

ESA’s Business Incubation Centres

In 2003, ESA decided to set up the BICs as part of its technology transfer programme, with the intention of helping entrepreneurs and young companies to use space technologies and knowhow in innovative new products and services in non-space fields.

Successful BICs have already been established in the Netherlands (Noordwijk), Italy (Frascati), Germany (Darmstadt and Oberpfaffenhofen) and the UK (Harwell). Being near major space sitesensures that specialist advice and consultancy is never far away: ESTEC at Noordwijk, ESOC at Darmstadt, ESRIN at Frascati, DLR institutes at Oberpfaffenhofen and the Harwell Oxford science parks in Oxfordshire.

A sixth BIC was recently approved for Redu in the Belgian Wallonia region, to be launched soon.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The TTPO’s main mission is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens.

The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding. For more information, please contact:

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency
Keplerlaan 1
2200 AG, Noordwijk
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 6208

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