Space: The Final Frontier, the boldest entrepreneurial ecosystem and closer than you think.
The human space program has existed in the collective unconscious of humanity since the dawn of awareness.~ Frank White
As long as there have been people on Earth, we have looked to the heavens in wonder and sought answers. It’s where our imagination and creativity, as well as our hopes and dreams have led. Last month I was introduced to Global Entrepreneurship Network: Space (GEN Space); the boldest, newest ecosystem, open to all who venture to go where no one has gone before.
Across the globe, we were taught about astronomers like Galileo and Copernicus, timeless mythology is intrinsically tied to the stars, literary genres, academic courses and popular music are just a sampling of things space related. It does not matter where you were born, what you look like, whether you’re able bodied, nor your socio-economic status, space is universal (pun self-evident). The world changed when early scientists shared their discoveries, as Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Time and again, as exploration and our imaginations took the next step, a ripple was felt. Discoveries such as insulation, prosthetic limbs, and smart phone cameras, just to name a few, came from technology around space programs. We grappled with ideas of equality and diversity in books by Ursula LeGuin and Kurt Vonnegut, and shows like Star Trek.
‘space is universal’
At the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul (GEC18IST), former astronaut, Gregory Johnson spoke of looking down from space and working on the space station, where there are no apparent borders and learning from people from all over the world. He shared that NASA and the world’s space programs needs the help of entrepreneurs. Johnson talked about the necessity for people to work together and for our planet; relating to entrepreneurs and GEC remarked, “the mission is amazing to me…what you do IS changing the world”. Reminding us the International Space Station is 18 years old; think about it, the kids in high school have only known a life where people have been living and working with space 24/7. Changes have been in effect for the International Space Station to be an innovation center to address problems on Earth. Stephan Reckie, the Executive Director of GEN Space helped build an investor network for Space minded startups. He spoke about satellites which have been around for over 60 years now and are being replaced by much smaller and effective models, at lesser costs, offering access to more. Reckie is also on the executive committee of EBAN Space whose members are investors, entrepreneurs or other stakeholders promoting and advancing Europe’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment in the space sector. Looking at how he could integrate space into what GEN was doing, he thought about ‘space’ as a location. He put together an executive board with representation from every continent, who map out an ecosystem for people that do business in space. Stephan’s goal is to share best practices, and bring in investors and founders to grow the global community. Space entrepreneurship is not new, it has a long history of advocates, including Candace Johnson, dubbed “The Satellady” by The Economist, who was given a toy Sputnik at the age of five. Her extensive portfolio of involvement includes private satellite and launcher initiatives dating back decades, and she had a part in the first commercial, occidental satellite launched in 1995.
Household names like Elon Musk, are a small part of a long line of space entrepreneurs.
This growing community of space entrepreneurs are from and of everywhere, and household names like Elon Musk, are a small part of a long line of space entrepreneurs. Since I ‘met’ Stephan Reckie last month, he and Greg Johnson have been in Iceland and are off to Sweden. Our friend, Brandon Seifert of Atomos Nuclear and Space, spoke about aerospace, space startups, and deep space business at Boulder’s Start-up Weekend with co-panelists from NASA and Colorado School of Mines. Oluseye Soyode-Johnson, another rising star lead Space Apps Nigeria in hosting Act In Space in Lagos this weekend. Australia is getting it’s first commercial space station and will be launching rockets within the year. And, Ani Khachatryan, Executive Director at New Technology Education Fund — NTE in Armenia, Stephan’s homeland, prompted me to write this article.
While space and our planet are seemingly expansive, like most things, there are relatively small, interconnected ecosystems threaded throughout. As I mentioned, Ani and Stephan both proudly hail from Armenia. While I formally ‘met’ him last month in Istanbul, we discovered that we attended the same magnet high school in the Bronx and graduated 2 years apart, which means we were in classes there at the same time. A school, well known for Nobel Laureates and astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I ‘connected’ Reckie recently to other classmates including Ted Leoutsakos, team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Frank Ferrante, a director at Intel working in aerospace; only to find out Frank and Stephan worked at TI at the same time. Coincidence? Maybe not. One of my vivid memories of high school took place late one spring afternoon as classes let out. A hush came over the crowd of thousands of students as eyes pointed towards the sky. We were mesmerized as the space shuttle flew above us, and all at once there was a roar of applause. The sky’s not the limit anymore and inspiration comes from many forms. Perhaps it’s because you were given a space ship when you were five, or watched Star Trek and saw someone how looked like you, or attended a new elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and met the woman it was named for, who turned out to be a NASA astronaut…and the first Hispanic woman in the world to go to space. *
It’s human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it’s an imperative.~ Michael Collins
The culture of entrepreneurship embraces the ideals of innovation, thinking out of the box, failing forward. It seems counterintuitive to think “failure is an option”, especially where the stakes are so large. But where else would it make more sense to try something that’s never been done before? What got us here, will obviously not get us there, after all, we’re not quite “there” yet, but we are definitely on our way. In the past, we looked to the heavens, and while there are more answers, there is still wonder. It’s what’s next, inevitable and where our imagination and creativity must focus, because all along our hopes and dreams have led us there.
To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.~ Stephen Hawking
(*for more on heroes like us: https://medium.com/@ceciliawessinger/shift-happens-aka-the-path-to-belonging-483cce4662c5)