Building an Australian Space Startup

Another title for this post could have been, “London Tech Week part 2: Please remember to walk with both feet.”  This may or may not be an in-joke regarding the obviousness of certain public announcements on the London underground, but I also like it as an analogy for our experience of being an Australian startup in London: Certain things about building a startup are (in retrospect) as obvious as walking, but I wonder, would learning to walk be as easy for a toddler if there weren’t older children and adults around to model their movements on, and be guided by?

It is undeniably an amazing thing to be a startup in an ecosystem like London, where tens of thousands of startup companies populate scores of co-working spaces as well as other offices, packed in tightly around the city, where governments incentivise investing in these startups from corporates, angel investors and venture capital funds alike, and where startups that have succeeded are able to stick around and pass on what they have learnt to the next generation.  It’s rightly called a startup culture when you’re constantly surrounded by people who are on that learning curve, and it was eye-opening for those of us attending London Tech Week for the first time to see the level of infrastructure in place to help startups succeed.  There have been a number of penny-drop moments for us during the week, which will likely affect our strategy going forward.

And yet, it should be said that there is a reason Australian Startups are so highly regarded.  Part of the downside of our isolation is having to (re)invent so much of what we aim to do, but as a result we have a reputation of being very good at invention, and along with our cultural tendency to undersell and over-deliver, our delegation arranged some high level meetings and so far to our knowledge at least one of the companies on the Startup Catalyst mission has had a spectacular funding outcome.  We also learnt much about the challenges of bridging that gap between operating in Australia and operating in the UK/Europe, and the importance of building a company that has already achieved well-defined metrics of success before attempting to move into the UK/European marketplace.

The second half of Exodus’ mission to London was just as productive as the first, but less structured.  Pictured above is the WA-focussed event at the Australia centre Thursday night (13th June), where the five Western Australian startups on the Startup Catalyst Mission to London Tech Week were able to meet with all the people from organisations that came together to make it happen, as well as a number of other fantastic West Aussies in London.  Special thanks go out to a number of people, but first to those within the WA Government department of Jobs, Tourism, Innovation and Science, who approved Exodus application to come on the mission, and Charlotta Andresson and others in the Government of Western Australia (WAGO)’s office in Europe, as well as Tess Thomas and others in the UK Department of International Trade (DIT).  Many of our most successful meetings wouldn’t have happened without them, and any Australian company seeking to move into the UK would do well to consult with these organisations.

On Friday morning, I (Mike) was able to attend the Australian Federal Treasurer (Josh Frydenberg)’s Breakfast at Macquarie Group headquarters in London, where he spoke about the challenges to, and opportunities for, Australia’s economy going forward.  Meeting him briefly afterward, I was able to thank him for his government’s support of the Australian Space Agency, and encourage them to do more for the growing space sector.  Anything their government can do to accelerate the growth of the space tech ecosystem in Australia will be news welcomed by us and others!

 

 

On Monday, Exodus Co-Founder and Lead Engineer Carl Conquilla flew into London for the space-themed meetings of the trip, and on Monday and Tuesday we were fortunate to meet a number of Satellite Insurers, as well as representatives from space-focussed venture capital, banking and trade organisations.  We look forward to further progress in each of these directions, but we are glad to say that each of them supported the importance of space debris cleanup as a pursuit, and could see how our method to deorbit space debris kinetically has the potential to be far more financially viable as a business than those companies using alternative methods.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit on Tuesday afternoon to Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), where we learnt more about what this company has been doing for over 30 years in the design, manufacture and operation of satellites in space missions.  Along with the Leicester and Harwell space clusters now in development, SSTL is undeniably a key asset for the UK space industry, and proximity to that concentration of expertise would have to be a driver for any space company to have a presence in the UK.  In the meantime, we will be exploring how we at Exodus might use this new connection to facilitate the further education of Australian engineers who want to become experts in satellite design and operation, since those are the people we want working at Exodus in the future.

Now that we’ve returned home, and (mostly) recovered from the jet lag, we are also looking at how we will use this experience to move Exodus forward towards meeting our own goals, and how we can pay it forward to other West Australian entrepreneurs who have their own great ideas and want to start their own companies.  It might just be a matter of learning to “walk”, but we’re definitely happy to do our part and help other startups “walk” with us.  So in that spirit: Please remember to walk with both feet, cause a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Author: mikelepage

Co-Founder and Lead Designer for Exodus Space Systems

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