Space-proof protein, pocket rockets, and other stories from ESA BIC Finland

A protein for astronauts that’s produced from electricity and air, an AI-platform improving maritime operations from above, and the world’s smallest rocket-propulsion system. Since the programme's birth in 2017, ESA BIC Finland-supported startups have raised EUR 58M. 

ESABIC

In 2017, Finland's Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment helped establish the European Space Agency (ESA) Business Incubation Centre in Finland (BIC) through the Aalto Startup Centre. As of 2021, external outside funding and investment in the ESA BIC Finland startups and ventures stands at EUR 58 million. 

"This is an impressive figure when we compare other European ESA BIC's startup investments. We already know that Finland is a great place for startups in general, but now Finnish space startups are truly emerging," says the Head of ESA BIC Finland, Kimmo Isbjörnssund

"We support aspiring space entrepreneurs in launching their business while helping established companies create spin-offs for the space industry." 

Reaching for the stars – and Mars

ESA BIC Finland incubates some ten new startups each year. Ventures seeking support need to be under five years old and have space-related technologies.  

Once selected, the startups receive up to EUR 75 000 in funding without having to share their equity or intellectual property. ESA BIC helps companies get started by providing office space, expert-level services, and introductions to relevant industrial and financing partner networks.   

One of the roaring success stories hailing from ESA BIC is Solar Foods, whose founders have created a technology for producing a sustainable natural protein using just electricity and air. The company's project for ESA was to develop a food solution for long-term space missions – especially those aiming for Mars. Solar Foods products have ignited sustained interest across the space community. The company recently received EUR 10M in funding from The Finnish Climate Fund.  

Another ESA BIC-supported company is Awake.ai, a maritime intelligence company with a mission to make the maritime logistics more sustainable. Its platform uses advanced satellite imagery and positioning to help keep shipping and container traffic running smoothly in some of the largest harbours in the world, such as Rotterdam and Valencia.

Aurora Propulsion Technologies has created the world's smallest propulsion system for managing and maneuvering small spacecraft, such as rockets in space at the end of their life cycle. Its orbital-maneuvering solution is attracting significant international attention as space operators look to prolong satellites' lifespan to decrease the amount of unnecessary space debris. Aurora Propulsion Technologies' solution has an electrostatic plasma brake that can spin a satellite out of orbit and into the earth's atmosphere, where it can burn up safely. 

The company was recently selected among Top 10 space startups in ESA Space Solution Challenge.

For ESA BIC startups, sky is not the limit

ESA BIC receives applications from startups to its programme from across the globe. Applicants need only to be eligible to live and work in the European Union. 

"For good reason, space companies and space agencies are rather conservative when it comes to startups. Startups that apply need to show credibility and reliability. After all, being supported by the European Space Agency is a major boost for any startup in this industry," Isbjörnssund says.

"While providing startups with opportunities and guidance, we try to help them to become accepted as parts of the broader international space community. This is especially important when their solutions aim to support satellite deployment, missions to the International Space Station – or even to the moon!"

ESA BIC accepts applications on a continuous basis. The next selection round takes place in September 2021.

ESA BIC Finland's Space for Humanity bootcamp is open for applications! 60 changemakers from diverse backgrounds dive into how to leverage space and space technologies to positively impact the future. Apply by 31st May.

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