I did not start out as a space entrepreneur — in fact, I know almost no one who has. Instead, I created and sold four other companies in different industries before I got into the space business. Yet, in the past few years, I began to realize that our dreams around space were unattainable unless we democratized the process and brought in more voices, more talent and more ideas.
It’s why I joined the advisory boards of both The Planetary Society and the Arch Mission. After joining, I quickly understood how I could use my past experiences, my connections and my talent to also be part of the commercial opportunities in space. As my business grows, I see so many opportunities for other entrepreneurs to build huge, successful space-focused businesses.
That’s why I want to challenge you to ask yourself the same question I did: can I build a space business and how will it help all of us realize the vision of a multi-planet species?
You can be the Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos of software.
Historically, space companies have been built with one primary mission in mind: getting to space. These hardware intensive companies were expensive to start and largely feasible only for those who already had billions of dollars to gamble on risky endeavors. However, as private enterprises have made it easier to get to space and satellites have become smaller and smaller, the next great potential lies not in more hardware, but in software.
Opportunity #1 — Improve access to space data.
The first business opportunity lies with software that improves access to our satellite data. Access to satellite data has been a frustrating choke point for even the most well-capitalized organizations. Historically, only a few companies could help with space to ground transference of data — and they were expensive. Now, major companies are entering the market to improve the space to ground network and the race is on to see who will turn this previous capital intensive activity into a commodity.
This is important, but it is not the only choke point in the access funnel. The next choke point comes in ensuring that you have the right data. Depending on who you ask there is either too little data or too much data, and most people don’t have the data they need, when they need it. Companies that can figure out how to give people exactly the data they need, when they need it (like when you are directing a fighter jet to an attack point) will remove the choke point.
Opportunity #2 — Improve software that analyzes data.
The quantity of data collected through space exploration is overshadowed only by the amount of data collected in Earth orbit by research and commercial satellites. JPL is still collecting, processing, and analyzing data from the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977. The vast amount of data we collect exploring our solar system begets yet more bold and audacious exploration, including the much-anticipated 2020 mission of the ExoMars program. But analyzing that data will take us years.
Companies that can apply machine learning and build responsive algorithms will be able to substantially speed up the cycle between finding information and applying it to new space missions. This in turn will speed up space exploration in general and open up new data findings in an endless cycle of discovery.
These companies are already making billions of dollars adding analytical information to space-based imagery, in a range of categories. These categories include finance, defense, infrastructure and the environment. And, companies working on this technology raised substantial investments: Orbital Insight raised $50 million, Descartes Labs attracted $30 million and SpaceKnow raised $4 million.
Opportunity #3 — Improve the performance of hardware.
Today’s satellite owners have as much control over their cubesat or microsat as they do a bowling ball barreling down the lane toward the gutter. Slight modifications are possible, but they’re entirely dependent on human intervention. As Cal Poly professor John Bellardo notes, “software is also the most overlooked component of a cubesat.”
Thanks to your ingenuity, the satellites of the future will be able to adjust accordingly. Your company could make cubesats as smart, adaptive, and responsive to context and conditions as your smartphone. After training, they’ll be able to drive themselves, and become intelligently autonomous, just like cars. For those with a background in cybersecurity, creating resilient and reliable software for these cubesats will be a wide-open market.
Space is infinite and because it is infinite there are untold ways for commercialization and entrepreneurial endeavors. In the near term, as we democratize access to hardware, we will democratize access for software solutions just as the computer industry enabled the era of software entrepreneurs. Are you ready to join me and the growing group of other space entrepreneurs?
Ben Lamm is a serial technology entrepreneur. Lamm is the founder/CEO of Hypergiant. Previously, he was the founder/CEO of Conversable (acquired by LivePerson), founder/CEO of Chaotic Moon Studios (acquired by Accenture) and Team Chaos (acquired by Zynga).