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Driving innovation: how accelerator programmes are boosting the UK’s space industry 

Driving innovation: how accelerator programmes are boosting the UK’s space industry 

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The UK space sector is worth more than £16.4 billion per year and employs over 47,000 people. Entrepreneurial support from space accelerators plays an integral role in the industry’s growth. Mike Stephens, CEO Entrepreneurial Spark – Space Accelerators, explains how accelerator programmes are boosting the space industry.

As the CEO of Entrepreneurial Spark, having spent the last two years running corporate accelerator programmes for a range of sectors, it is my pleasure to lead innovation, drive entrepreneurial support and create a positive impact in the UK’s flourishing space industry.

With the UK space sector worth over £16.4 billion pa and employing over 47,000 people, entrepreneurial support from space accelerators plays an integral role in the industry’s growth – last year, start-ups which had participated in UK Space Agency Accelerator pilots generated almost £9 million in investments and created 80 new jobs. With many aspiring entrepreneurs signing up for similar opportunities, it is fantastic to see the role accelerators play to inspire entrepreneurs to join the UK’s space industry.

Space accelerator programmes offer invaluable support to entrepreneurs passionate about space exploration and there are numerous programmes available in the UK and globally, all aiming to help incubate space-focussed start-ups and drive them to success. These programmes include Seraphim Space Accelerator, designed to get SpaceTech companies investment-ready; Astropreneurs Space Start Up Accelerator, Starburst Aerospace and of course, the UK Space Agency Accelerator, run in partnership between the space commercialisation experts at Exotopic and us here at Entrepreneurial Spark, with funding from the UK Space Agency.

Entrepreneurial Spark is founded on the belief that creativity and curiosity can change the world. As CEO, I love to see the limitless possibilities in people and the businesses they create and strive to ensure accelerators are the means where infectious imagination meets desire, generating change and encouraging entrepreneurs to find their place in the business ecosystem. And together with Exotopic, we lead our UK Space Agency Accelerator programme, providing vital insights and expertise for those entrepreneurs interested in developing their ideas and their businesses within the UK space industry. We believe that entrepreneurs hold the key to unlocking a bright future for everyone. Which is why we’ve designed a series of programmes for entrepreneurs at every level of their space journey; and why I am proud to be a part of this mission to ensure that accelerators are the powerful engine that drives innovation and growth in the UK space sector.

The UK Space Agency Accelerator’s Explore programme encourages entrepreneurs into space. A nine-week accelerator sprint designed to give a burst of pace within a short time frame, it is aimed at those with a desire to start a growth business or social enterprise. Accelerator programmes aimed at early-stage businesses either within the space sector or those looking in to break into the sector, help lay the foundations to build high-growth, scalable space businesses. They are an excellent opportunity to work with a panel of experts and amazing cohorts of like-minded entrepreneurs to start an exciting new venture by helping identify the best early customers and routes to market. Early-stage accelerator programmes support entrepreneurs in accessing business models and product strength, helping find the best path to raise funds and develop propositions necessary for building a sustainable business.

Most recently, the UK Space Agency Accelerator launched its Leo and Geo accelerator programmes, both designed to inspire entrepreneurs in the next stage of growth. These programmes are aimed at entrepreneurs with a proof of concept and who are keen to scale up their business at pace within the UK’s burgeoning space industry. Both programmes are designed to support 90 entrepreneurs across three cohorts with a business boost, provided through specialist coaching, networking opportunities and business support. Mid-level programmes like these encourage entrepreneurs within the space sector or those already using space technology, who already have some level of business traction and who have already won commercial customers. Such programmes encourage scale-ups into space by allowing entrepreneurs to deepen their understanding of the sector and use space technology as well as providing guidance and support to develop the ways in which they grow and lead their businesses. Accelerator programmes, such as Geo, target businesses with significant commercial traction in the space sector and are designed to support ambitious entrepreneurs on their journey to becoming stronger leaders. Existing entrepreneurs are encouraged to assess their current framework and spend time on areas that will deliver impact to their business.

All of our UK Space Agency Accelerator programmes, no matter the stage of a business’s growth, pair entrepreneurs with unique access to much-needed resources and expertise. They enable those with new ideas to connect with potential investors, mentors and industry leaders who can help them on their journey. Planning processes within each programme ensure entrepreneurs leave with a clear path and the right network to support every stage of their journey, setting them up for success in space. Accelerator programmes also offer access to supporting infrastructure, such as lab space or testing equipment, which can be otherwise be prohibitively expensive for individuals to access without the backing of a programme. By working to break down cost and knowledge barriers, accelerator programmes can help reduce business’s research and development time and prepare them to launch new products and services within the space industry that may otherwise not be possible without large capital, something businesses in the early stages of growth often lack.

The promise of a continuously thriving UK space sector is undeniably inspiring; yet to continue to grow, it needs a diverse selection of people and businesses, with the right skills and technology and to support the sector to prosper.

Inclusion is therefore at the heart of the UK Space Agency Accelerator, offering new opportunities for often underrepresented groups to explore, contribute to and enhance the UK space sector, to unearth new partnerships and to boost employment for the benefit of all. By fostering inclusion through accelerator programmes, the space industry will see increased business survival rates, support high-growth and high-potential entrepreneurs, as well as invite new participants into the booming sector. This community of support, resources and opportunity breeds an exciting environment for entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into concrete and impactful businesses and inspire the next generation of space innovators.

Not only do accelerator programmes encourage and attract a diverse range of participants, they are also an out of this world opportunity for entrepreneurs to access the support they need, so they can take confident next steps in the space sector, irrespective of the stage of their businesses. Such investment in UK businesses unlocks opportunities to create more jobs, to develop a diverse and wider range of science and technology capabilities and to act as a catalyst for further investment into the economy, delivering lasting outcomes for the space sector and related industries across the UK.

By fostering innovation and creating a diverse workforce, accelerator programmes help unearth a new emerging space ecosystem that drives growth both for start-ups and for established companies – and of course, for society and humanity as a whole.

The UK Space agency is always looking for entrepreneurs to join its accelerator programmes. Applications for the next Explore cohort will open on June 21.

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