Tuesday, August 14, 2012

NewSpace Competition a Potential Model for Canada

           by Farnaz Ghadaki,

There are easily 180 entrepreneurship and business plan type competition events worldwide (at least, according to bizplancompetitions.com) but only three are listed as space sector related and of these three none are Canadian based.

The $100,000 first prize for the 2012 BPC.
The most notable is the NewSpace Business Plan Competition (BPC) hosted by US-based Space Frontier Foundation (SFF).

Created to “foster the development of commercial space companies centered around critical space technologies” according to the SFF website, this competition is a good model to set up for Canada.

The SFF launched the BPC in 2006, when the first winner amongst five finalists (two with Canadian members) was awarded $2,000. Since then, SFF has hosted four more BPC’s, each getting bigger and better. Courtesy of the Heinlein Prize Trust, the 2009 BPC prize grew to $5,000, and an additional contribution from NASA took the prize level to $32,500 for 2011. This year the award increased by about 340%, to a whopping $110,000 total cash prize, thanks to a grant from NASA's Emerging Commercial Space Office.

The increasing prize money, coupled with the rapid growth of the private space sector, have spiked the number and quality of applicants to a total of 55 this year (vs. 25 last year). Prize money aside, the success of the BPC also contributes to SFF’s planning process, its fine-tuned model for the competition and more importantly the time and dedication of the team and its supporters.

The 2012 BPC was announced at the beginning of this year and Canadians learned about it first at the 9th Annual Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) Expanding Canada's Frontiers symposium in Toronto on January 20th, during a presentation by BPC project manager Tom Olson. Executive summary applications were accepted until May 25th and on June 15th, a committee of 11 selected and announced the 10 finalists.

The selected finalists then had to submit a full written business plan by July 6th, and go through a two day boot camp to prepare for a final six minute pitch (plus a further six minute Q & A with the judges) on July 27th at the 2012 NewSpace Conference in Santa Clara, California.

A distinguished panel of five judges with expertise in investment and business development (including Canada’s own Eva-Jane Lark of BMO Nesbitt Burns) carefully selected the winners who were announced at the Awards Gala on July 28th.

Among the ten finalists (whose impressive offerings ranged from new propellant technology to bio-engineered products and satellite-related hardware/ software) only one had a Canadian team member: Joel Spark of NanoSatisfi LLC. But despite a great presentation by NanoSatisfi CEO Peter Platzer, the cool ArduSat product (an open-source cubesat) and recent headlines about their overwhelming success on Kickstarter, this partially-Canadian owned company (profiled, but not identified as such in the June 21st, 2012 CBC News community blog article "What would you send into space if you had the chance?") was not a winner this year.

Instead, the $100K prize went to Space Ground Amalgam, LLC, the $10K second prize went to Digital Solid State Propulsion, LLC, and an honorable mention went to Terapio Corporation. According to the business plans, these three companies will use the developed plans and new connections to seek an additional $3.5 - $10 million USD's to fund their businesses.

The prize money [..] is actually only a small part of what the competition offers”, said Spark. He felt that NanoSatisfi got tremendous exposure from the contest “After Peter gave his pitch, within seconds of sitting down, there was an investor tapping him on the shoulder,” said Spark.

2012 NanoSatisfi team members Reka Kovacs, Joel Spark, Peter Platzer and Jeroen Cappaert.

Also of benefit was the two day Boot Camp, where finalists not only practiced their pitch with ten outstanding coaches, but also received valuable feedback from industry experts attending the NewSpace Conference (which attracted a record of over 500 attendees this year).

Tom Olson attributes "the huge success of this year's BPC to a combination of many factors, including but not limited to: prizes, vision and scope, outreach to multiple sectors (including nano- and biotech), and the dedicated hard working people." For those who'd like to learn more, videos of the conference proceedings are available at Space Vidcast.

Although there are many business plan competitions in Canada (for example, the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition, Enterprize Canada, IBK Capital - Ivey, BMO Apex, and TIE Quest), and at least two space-related competitions focused on technical designs (the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC)  and the currently on hiatus U of T Space Design Contest (UTSDC)), there is currently no Canadian business plan competition focused on space activities.

Having one, especially with a growing commercial space sector, would not only foster economic growth and innovation (particularly in the area of space science and technology capacity building which is of interest to the Canadian Space Agency), but would also keep our Canadian talent in the country and give them a forum to get together and come up with creative solutions.

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