New research has shown that the companies that have taken part in the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK) have collectively raised over £55 million in equity investment in the last eight years.
Managed by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the ESA BIC UK enables up to 12 UK start-ups every year to use space and satellite technologies to develop new products and services. Since opening in 2011 it has helped 75 start-up companies, 66 of which have already graduated from the centre and are now rocketing their way to commercial success as vibrant, growing businesses.
This new milestone charting the success of the ESA BIC UK follows several of the alumni companies gaining large investments in recent months. This has included a £1 million investment for Adaptix, a company developing a portable 3D medical x-ray machine for earlier cancer detection, and a £1.5 million investment for The Electrospinning Company to support them in the development of its electro-spun nano-fibre membranes that can help the body repair and regenerate its own tissues.
The Electrospinning Company CEO Ann Kramer said: “The ESA BIC UK programme provided a base close to key STFC facilities and support to enable our early growth. Although we are no longer associated with space-technology, we still enjoy the benefits of the diverse alumni network.”
Mark Evans, CEO, Adaptix Ltd said: “The ESA BIC UK provides the support to allow ‘hard-tech’ companies the breathing space to reach the milestones critical to attract further capital. ESA’s brand is also important as it helps by attracting and enhancing investor interest in highly novel technologies.”
STFC’s Dr Sue O’Hare, Operations Manager at the ESA BIC UK, said: “This is a fantastic milestone for us to have reached in less than 9 years. It is clear that the business support package and other benefits of the ESA BIC UK programme has had a dramatic impact on the success of the start-up companies taking part.”
The ESA BIC UK was first operational at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, and expanded in 2018 to additionally operate at the campuses; Sci-Tech Daresbury in the North West of England and at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. One third of the initial ESA BIC Harwell companies have remained on the Harwell Campus. Notable companies significantly contributing to the total investment raised over the last eight years include the space satellite solutions firm Open Cosmos and the travel time firm iGeolise.
Open Cosmos CEO Rafael Jordà Siquier said: “The ESA BIC UK provided Open Cosmos with the essential basics to start growing. Apart from getting us relevant amenities like office and lab space, the ESA BIC UK introduced us to a wider network in ESA, which helped us get in touch with key partners and customers.”
“During our stay with the ESA BIC UK we achieved a series of important milestones. These include our first satellite launch from the International Space Station, winning a contract with ESA to become the first Space Mission Provider (SMP) on the ESA Pioneer partner programme, raising US$ 7 million in Series A funding, and winning a major contract with the Satellite Applications Catapult for its In-Orbit Demonstration Programme.”
For iGeolise co-founder Charlie Davies the ESA BIC UK was key to ensuring they had the best opportunity possible to grow the business: “When we joined the ESA BIC UK in 2013 we were 2 people with an idea to search the web by travel time, and no customers. Now we’re a team of 31 people with a profitable business in 35 countries. The ESA BIC UK helped us in those early days by providing access to ‘plug and play’ offices, business and technical expertise, and a wealth of introductions. Oh … and a very useful grant! That helped us to grow the business and win our first customers. Now several years later, we’ve just closed an investment of over £3 million from ETF Partners to help us bring the TravelTime platform and sustainable travel to more people, in more places, more quickly. The ESA BIC UK played an important part in our journey – and we remain grateful.”
The ESA name is consistently cited by the companies being supported by the ESA BIC UK as one of the most valuable benefits, since it demonstrates that the company is “quality assured” and is credible with investors and partners.
In addition the technical support and advice provided by STFC staff and the access to networks and relationships are seen as core benefits of being part of the ESA BIC UK.
STFC’s Business and Innovation Directorate supports the growth of early-stage high-tech businesses, which results in economic growth for the UK. Acting as both the manager of the ESA BIC UK and ESA’s Innovation Partner UK, provides STFC with a unique, innovative and attractive offering to engage with space and space-enabled start-ups.
This builds on the strong track record STFC has in the business incubation of technology start-ups and SMEs. STFC Is part of the thriving space cluster at Harwell and has excellent links with public and private sector space research organisations through ESA ECSAT, STFC’s RAL Space, UK Space Agency, Innovate UK and the Satellite Applications Catapult.