Learn, build, repeat. That was the mantra that Raj Gautam, founder and chief executive of startup QL Space, learned when he participated in the Venture Catalyst Space Program.
Gautam launched his start-up less than a year ago and is developing a multisensor remote sensing satellite for the aerospace and mining industries.
Once developed, a high-tech tool will be used by mining companies as a faster and safer alternative to finding mineral deposits.
Gautam had spoken to alumni of the program and realized that the initiative had a “good pedigree” and that many had achieved their goals.
Using South Australia’s burgeoning space industry ecosystem, the program – funded by the South Australian government – aims to help international companies prove the viability of their concepts.
Now in its fifth year, the initiative is based at the University of South Australia Innovation & Collaboration Center (ICC) in Adelaide, South Australia. The latest round opens today, and startups have until Nov. 16 to apply for $10,000 in stock-free support to establish them.
“One of the most important things (from the program) for me was to have as many conversations as possible,” Gautam said.
“That one sentence was enough for me to put myself in back-to-back conversations and try to fail forward, as I like to say, and just give my ideas to people and let them poke holes in them.
“Every time they poked holes in it, I could rewrite it into a better product. That was a game changer.”
QL Space has signed an MOU with three Indian space companies, according to Gautam, and they were also finalists in the inaugural Unearthed ‘Thinking Critical South Australia’ competition, winning $50,000 in funding.
“I really feel like we wouldn’t be here without the ICC because they really helped get that mindset right,” he said.
“Within 12 months of building a payload and doing air tests on it, I don’t think any startup has done it that fast.”
Applications are now open for the next inclusion in the program, one of the initiatives stemming from the South Australian government’s $4 million.
ICC director Jasmine Vreugdenburg said the program removes some of the usual barriers to starting a business.
“When you think of a tech startup and all the challenges they face, a lot of them involve finding a repeatable and scalable business model, which is different from setting up an SME,” she said.
“Understanding that business model of what a startup is, researching a new idea or product, and getting education and support around that exact model is crucial.”
Vreugdenburg said the program also enables startups to network and build connections with organizations such as the Australian scientific body the CSIRO and the SmartSat CRC consortium of industry and research organizations.
“If someone is working on a particular technology, and they need some support or comparative advice, we can say, ‘Well, I know this person has done this, or he’s in this area, or she has experience here, and she can open doors and introduces you to her contacts”, says Vreugdenburg.
Venture Space Catalyst has nurtured 29 startups in space since the program started in 2018, 90 percent of which are still active.
More than 70 percent of those companies have released funding or investments of more than $13 million, and the program has created 126 new jobs in the space industry.
More than half of international startups have set up offices in South Australia, home to the Australian Space Agency and a leading player in the country’s growing space industry.
This year’s impressive Venture Catalyst Space cohort included 10 companies such as Blue Dwarf, ANT61, Orbital Blue and Espy Ocean.
Through the program, tech startup Espy Ocean managed to get a contract with Commercial Fisheries to use their hyperspectral satellite imaging technology to monitor tuna.
“The great thing about this program is that we offer startups $10,000 in equity-free support to establish them, rather than a large amount of cash in exchange for a stake in their company,” said Vreugdenburg.
“Startup founders need all the other things the program provides, such as the contacts, education, entrepreneurial community, mentoring and access to potential first-time users of their new technology.
“I think that’s the most important thing: if you apply and start, you go a lot faster with this program.”
The 2023 Venture Catalyst Space program will run from March 1, 2023 to August 31, 2023 and applicants have until November 16, 2022 to apply for the 2023 intake through icc.unisa.edu.au/space