On his newly released Youtube video Volodymyr Usov, the head of the Ukrainian State Space Agency, compares the space industry in its current state to a dinosaur. For me, it reminds more of a Phoenix ready to be reborn from the ashes of corruption, Soviet mentality, and overall backwardness. Today, our team is celebrating 100 days from the beginning of the significant transformation, and launch of a new program for space tech startups – Yangel Big Bang.
Supporting the startup ecosystem is a huge priority for the space industry leaders such as NASA, ESA, and lately JAXA. NASA hosts the global Space Apps challenge – an annual hackathon with challenges designed by the agency’s experts. ESA also has a biannual hackathon, and a business incubator network all over Europe, from Norway to Portugal, with each center incubating up to 5 startups per year. JAXA recently joined the Space Apps COVID-19 initiative, an online hackathon for those who want to conquer the global pandemic through data science. Why would think tanks with decades of expertise and the world’s best experts need to involve startups in their problem-solving process?
The reason is inertia. From the physics lessons, you might remember that the bigger the object, the longer it takes for it to change its direction. When it comes to large and complicated structures such as space agencies, inertia makes innovating even more difficult. And some challenges need immediate reaction – brave ideas, scalable solutions, and cost-effective prototypes. Combining the best qualities of a startup with the expertise and knowledge the agency holds, the results might be amazing.
Working as a NASA Space Apps local lead made me realize that not only startups can benefit from the space agency’s support, but also the agency might become more resilient and agile learning from startups.
And that’s how the idea of Yangel Big Bang, an online startup pre-acceleration program, appeared.
For the first time in the history of the Ukrainian space industry, we’re bridging the gap between the agency and the startups, opening up for collaboration, peer learning, and partnership. And it is quite a unique precedent, even with all the digital and conceptual transformations happening today in our country. We’re starting a dialogue between a freshly reborn Phoenix, and young, hungry, ambitious teams who are willing to collaborate on the challenges as big as the space industry gets.
We started small, with online workshops, helping the startupers understand which space technology they might implement in their products. As of today, we touched remote sensing, data science, and artificial intelligence for satellites. A reasonable next step was to launch a 4-week long online program to help the teams validate their hypothesis, work on business models, and enhance their soft skills. Yangel Big Bang is an unusual, but very much needed format – a pre-acceleration program preceding the main act, which is a 3-month long accelerator planned to launch in November 2020.
Within this track of the program, we focus on the following topics:
- rockets and launches,
- space on the ground,
- the new horizons.
We expect to engage up to 15 early-stage startups and provide them with mentors’ support every step of the way. Not only the mentors from the agency are involved: we also invited the industry experts from Noosphere and EOS, the Ministry of digital transformation representatives, startupers, and entrepreneurs who’ve successfully launched their own projects, and many more. Our main objective is to show that space tech isn’t a sci-fi fantasy anymore. It is very much real and profitable.
Maria Yarotska, startup acceleration adviser at the State Space Agency of Ukraine