“Since 2003, our business incubation initiative has nurtured over 400 companies, showing the value of this initiative in bringing back to Earth the benefits of space technology,” notes Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management and Head of ESA’s ESTEC research and development centre. “In particular, ESA Member States have realised the potential in using technologies and services from space to create new businesses and local jobs – and doing so under our well-proven incubation scheme.
“Entrepreneurs and small companies bring their ideas and we support them with technical advice from ESA and business advice from our partners to develop them into viable new companies in Europe.” The initiative has now grown to 12 ESA Business Incubation Centres in nine European countries with four more to open later this year, fostering over 130 new start-ups each year.
From Mars to health
Drawing on the space technology opened up a plethora of applications, from diagnosing diseases at the point of care by measuring exhaled breath, to better understanding of the effect of climate change by measuring atmospheric pollutants in remote and hostile environments. Bringing a Mars sensor down to Earth to improve healthcare, help development in Africa through satnav-based last-mile delivery services, and the use of Earth observation data to assist patients with respiratory diseases are just some of the recent innovative business ideas being developed at centres.
An instrument originally developed at the UK’s RAL Space to probe the atmosphere of Mars has been used by start-up Mirico, hosted at ESA’s Harwell incubator, to develop medical devices and scientific instruments for use on Earth. The instrument overcomes major shortcomings in existing units as a result of its space origins – it is far more compact, robust and provides onsite laboratory-level performance.
“Because of its highly demanding requirements, space science research efforts nurture new technologies widely applicable to terrestrial challenges,” says Mirico’s Chief Scientific Officer, Damien Weidmann.“The exciting thing about the technology is the broad range of applications and its potential on Earth to have a positive social effect, from improving healthcare outcomes to understanding climate change,” adds Mirico’s Business Development Director, Mohammed Belal.