As one of the few space engineers slash rocket scientists in the Netherlands, Berry Sanders has his office in the SBIC Noordwijk building. What can he tell you about space business?
Berry is currently incubated in the ESA BIC program with his company HDES – High Density Energy Storage. Here he works on cool-gas generators that are applicable to a wide arrange of use cases. He launched the technology behind it already into space before – and it’s still safe and sound on the PROBA-2 satellite. Next to that, he is working on the VOLTA rocket engine. When you’re meeting him in Noordwijk, he easily could talk for hours about science and technology. But his sense of business is just as impressive.
With more than 15 years of experience in research organizations, working with business cases and eventually getting an MBA, and even learning from previous entrepreneurial efforts, the combination of business and technology fits Berry like a glove. Here are his tips for being an entrepreneur in the space sector:
1. Technology is core
Realize that if you want to be in space that technology always is the core of your business, whether it being New Space, upstream or a downstream application. “It’s important to do sales and marketing, but it starts with technology. Never forget that.”
And that’s because…
2. Technical problems WILL happen
A kind of ‘Murphy’s Law’, keep in mind technical problems will arise. “When the problems start to occur: you must be creative enough to solve it. There’s no way you can do it right the first time.” He adds: “You have to make provisions and buffers to be able to solve these problems and a good dose of creativity to find solutions that fit within the budget.”
That being said…
3. Focus on product development
“Especially at the start of your entrepreneurial journey it’s tempting to talk with everyone who wants to help and give you advice – or offer you services. My advice: do as much as you can yourself (like bootstrapping), and put the time and money you are saving with that in product development. Turn around every penny before spending it – check if advisors and consultants really add value for you.”
4. Know thy market
“Talk to potential customers in the market, as soon as possible. Find at least 10 prospects. Not just any prospects, but high quality ones – the ones that get excited from your idea or prototype. Eventually this will only lead to, say, 2 customers.” So dive deep into the market because and talk to enough people. “But”, Berry says, “don’t get lost in it and lose focus on the product. You’ll have to find a balance between product and sales.”
5. Have a backup plan
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. “Only 1 out of 10 startups is a ‘success’. This doesn’t mean that the other 9 go bankrupt per se, but they are struggling in some sense. So my tip: evaluate after 2 or 3 years if this lifestyle suits you.”
Berry has some advice for backup plans: “If you are still young, have in mind where you want to work after your startup journey. If you are older, you can freelance or have a part-time job on the side – at least until you reach your desired state of business. This additional income gives you extra security. Take care of yourself.”
Curious about space business? Then maybe the ESA BIC program is for you.
Apply before April 29 and become a space based business yourself!