Disrupt Space - Hacking the Beyond

By Gemma Milne

Izan Peris, co-founder of Disrupt Space (3 guesses why we like them...) took time out to chat with us about co-founding the Disrupt Space Summit. The yearly summit mashes together a hackathon, a startup exhibition and thought leadership presentations all focused on innovation in the space sector. The 2016 Summit kicked off in April in Bremen, so it felt like a great time to reflect back on why Disrupt Space was begun and what came out of this year's event...

SD: What is Disrupt Space and what was the motivation for setting it up? 

IP: There's a common perception among the new and next generation of space professionals that the commercial space has a distinct lack of opportunities for innovative ventures. To begin to tackle this pressing challenge, we decided to gather together two volunteer teams (in Bremen and Shanghai) with a desire to leverage the existing non-space grassroots entrepreneurial community building strategies; specifically the concept of a Startup Weekend. The result was two simultaneous events occurring back in 2015. The events had the capacity to generate lean space startup concepts driven through interdisciplinary collaboration, and this would all occur all within 60 hours...

People with non-space backgrounds were especially encouraged to participate while leaders in the global space community - which included entrepreneurs, academics, policy experts, technical experts, and business managers – came to serve as mentors and judges. 

With the success of the Startup Weekend Space events, we received the opportunity to turn this grassroots movement into a sustainable, growable business. We formed an interdisciplinary and international team and set out on the path to build Disrupt Space as the organisational vehicle for this mission. Our first strategic goal was to bring as many of the current commercial space and non-space players globally together under one roof called the Disrupt Space Summit. 

We really wanted to create an international collaborative environment and transform this collaboration into sustainable entrepreneurial action. It meant we could also position Disrupt Space as the global hub for entrepreneurs to create and grow space startups. 

SD: You've previously mentioned the perception of the industry as - 'for rocket scientists only' - why has that persisted, and more importantly, how can that be changed? 

IP: The space sector has traditionally been in the domain of large telecommunication and government players. They have operated in a predominantly low volume, high value market and unfortunately the sector’s aptitude for disruptive, game-changing innovation has been mostly lacklustre since the Apollo era. 

However the space sector today is experiencing a renaissance! New methodologies such as “agile aerospace” is enabling rapid design cycles of complex space systems previously unseen in the sector. Innovative business models are being developed with the aim to commercialise and expand the sector’s value chain. Private investments (from venture capital) in 2015 alone exceeded the previous 15 years combined. A disruptive change is happening right now, and is accelerating. 

SD: So what exactly happens at the Summit?

IP: On the day, aspiring entrepreneurs break off to work on challenges submitted by select organisations, creating solutions which they will - at the finale of the event - present back to the whole community. Meanwhile, existing startups mingle with decision makers showing off their products and services. Then we have workshops designed for non-space decision makers held to provide an overview of current opportunities and challenges in the commercial space sector.

SD: What sort of problems is Disrupt Space trying to solve?  

IP: At this year's summit, we gathered 6 challenges from industry for aspiring entrepreneurs including:

  • Made in Space - Establish a business model that utilises 3D printing on the International Space Station
  • United Nations World Food Program - Provide farmers in remote locations with location-specific information, including weather alerts, agricultural advice, crops status & nutrition tips
  • Moon Village - Create a business model and a vision that will contribute towards the realisation of the Moon Village concept.  

SD: There was clearly a lot of brilliant content at the Summit but what were the top 3 things at this years' Disrupt Space?  

IP: For me, it was the creation of an atmosphere that fostered the passion and vision required to execute a space startup. There was a wonderful mix of established space corporations and young, agile space startups and aspiring entrepreneurs. In my mind, the event was a breath of fresh air for the space industry. It was also brilliant to promote and encourage business relationships between the startups themselves.

SD: Who won the competition and tell us a little about what they aim to achieve?

IP: So we had 2 competitions - the startup pitching competition and then the results of the 'hackathon', the aspiring entrepreneur challenge contest.

For the startup pitches, the finalists were:

Blue Dot Solutions - A Polish startup that is creating services and products based on Earth Observation, Global Navigation Satellite Systems and ground sensor data for emergency response management and quality of life. 

Deep Space Industries - An American asteroid mining startup that aims to provide technical resources, capabilities and system integration required to prospect for, harvest, process, manufacture and market in-space resources. 

T-Minus Engineering - A Dutch startup that designs, builds and launches sounding rockets. 

Ripple Aerospace - A Norwegian launch services startup specialising in sea launched spacecraft for a scalable and flexible launch system. 

Vali - A Bremen based software startup which enables engineers to collaboratively build better and cheaper satellites. 

After considerable deliberation, the panel of judges chose Deep Space Industries as the winner.

The the winning teams from the aspiring entrepreneur challenge were: 

ESPACIO - They proposed an Earth observation and data analytics platform to support farmers in rural area with location based real-time information. 

Starshine - They aim to create an exclusive brand that manufactures unique luxury products in space using in-orbit 3D-printers. 

Luna Horizon - They focused on in-situ manufactured solar panels on the surface of the moon to power satellites around Earth’s orbit. 

Space Mining Access - They wanted to target the first delivery service in space by providing mining companies an all-round carefree package with the goal to keep transportation costs low and let customers focus on their core business. 

Overview VR  - Their mission was to provide a high resolution, fully immersive virtual reality experience to 1 billion people on Earth from within rocket cockpits, the International Space Station and free-floating satellite platforms. 

Building Blocks for a Better Life - They wanted to provide low-tech modular-based communication devices linked to either ground stations or satellites, providing internet connectivity to remote communities using co-creation techniques. 

SD: So you think the science industry should act more like the tech industry with hackathons / openness / more experiential conferences? Or should it carve its own path? 

IP: Definitely yes! One of the major challenges for science is to eliminate the perceived barrier of entry for people with a science background. Being open and creating events and experiences where people can learn what science and technology are really all about is crucial. One of the biggest challenges for the space sector as well is being able to communicate how space is providing value for your daily life for people that may never have heard about what a satellite does. There is so much cool stuff in science, and in the space sector in particular, but it is generally not well communicated to the public. That is why, initiatives like yours are so important for the scientific/tech community! 

SD: How do you think startups / researchers / corporates can best work together?

IP: One of the goals of our event was to bring together space industry professionals, researchers and the investment community together with the startups. Our event was very unique, because it was the first time that this  different players were under the same roof in Europe, for the topic of commercial space. Generally, it's hard for this players to listen to each other and have a neutral ground to share ideas and interact. Events like ours, or other tech conferences, facilitate the collaboration between many different players. 

SD: What is your hope for Disrupt Space in the future? 

IP: Our vision for Disrupt Space has always been to serve as a platform for entrepreneurs to “Turn the Solar System into our backyard”, which means to create a sustainable space economy. That means that we need entrepreneurs to build the next generation of infrastructure and services in space. But building that infrastructure in space also allows you to look back to Earth, and allows you to monitor almost every parameter that is related to the health of our planet, and allows many business opportunities. And that is the low hanging fruit for space entrepreneurs: create new applications using the data derived from space assets to make life on Earth that much better.


Thanks to Izan Peris for sharing his passion for space ventures with us.

Check him out here: @izanperis

....and of course Disrupt Space: Disrupt Space

Congratulations to all winners of Disrupt Space Bremen 2016!