Sunday, September 07, 2014

Open Space Orbital Post Mortem: Lessons Learned & Moving Forward

          by Brian Orlotti

The group of Nova Scotia space entrepreneurs calling themselves Open Space Orbital (OSO) might only have managed to raise $5,568 of their $100,000 CDN goal during their recently concluded Kickstarter campaign to fund Canada's first orbital micro-satellite launch vehicle, but the lessons learned from the effort will help steer the team towards long-term success.

A static test of  a 1,000 lbf thrust hybrid rocket test engine developed during the Ansari X-Prize competition by Canadian competitors in 2004. According to the OSO website, rocket designer Adam Trumpour was a propulsion group volunteer for a Canadian team that competed in the X-Prize competition and a founding member of Continuum Aerospace, an engineering R&D and consulting group, before joining OSO as the designer of its proposed Neutrino rocket. Photo c/o OSO.  

As outlined in the August 4th, 2014 blog post, "New East Coast Rocket Start-up Announces Kickstarter Campaign," the thirty-two day campaign ran from August 4th to September 5th, 2014 and attempted to raise money for what OSO hoped would be the prototype engine for Canada's first orbital launch vehicle (called Neutrino), a market analysis, an updated business plan and legal services.

In a followup interview with the Commercial Space Blog, OSO Founder and CEO Tyler Reyno said that, although the team was not able to meet their funding goal, they are nevertheless pleased with the results. 

Reyno said that the publicity generated by the campaign has enabled the OSO team to forge new relationships with industry and pave the way toward tapping other funding sources. Reyno stated that his team will now be applying for various Canadian federal grants and courting private investors. 

Among private funding sources, Reyno mentioned Futurpreneur Canada, a national non-profit organization dedicated to fostering young entrepreneurs aged 18–39. Futurpreneur provides business resources, start-up financing and mentoring to young entrepreneurs to enable them to launch and sustain successful businesses.

In talking to Reyno, two key lessons emerged:
  • Take the time to build up a following on social media prior to launching a Kickstarter campaign. OSO's month-long campaign was unable to generate much word-of-mouth hype or public debate about the Neutrino launch vehicle's potential to shape Canada's space future. Indeed, the most successful Kickstarter campaigns (including the Pebble smart-watch, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, the Ouya gaming console, GoldieBlox engineering toys for girls and Golden Age) all held aggressive social media campaigns prior to beginning. The awareness and goodwill gained via social media fueled these projects' success.
  • Develop relationships with universities prior to starting fundraising. Reyno frankly admitted that he had hoped that OSO would receive more support from Canadian universities than it did. Although confident of Canadian universities' interest in a homegrown Canadian launch system, OSO failed to reckon with academic bureaucracies and their often slow decision-making processes. Some universities may simply not have had the time to make their interest known.
Although OSO's Kickstarter campaign proved unsuccessful, it is important to remember that the early history of rocketry was riddled with setbacks (not to mention explosions). A decade ago, a small startup called SpaceX announced its plans to build rockets cheaply and more efficiently than established players, a plan for which it was ridiculed and ignored for years. 

Brian Orlotti.
The road ahead for OSO may be difficult, but Reyno and his team possess the best competitive "edge" of all; the ability to learn from mistakes and press on towards success.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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