ESA Uses Space to Boost 100th UK Start-up Company

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA is expanding its efforts to spark innovation in the UK by enabling a growing number of fledgling firms to transform ambitious space-based ideas into commercial reality. 

Today the ESA Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK) welcomed British company Skyfarer, which is developing the UK’s first autonomous drone delivery network for the rapid provision of life-saving medical supplies.

This marks a milestone of 100 start-ups supported by the programme in the decade since its inception.

These companies have raised over £86 million in investment and, in 2020 alone, incubatees have filed 12 new patents.

Despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, companies incubated at the ESA BIC UK have maintained an 89% survival rate.

Skyfarer’s drone delivery network will support the NHS by accelerating the provision of time-sensitive medical supplies, such as blood for transfusions, organs for transplantation, and vaccines. 

The service – which could be expanded to cover logistical operations in many other industries – has the potential to ease traffic congestion and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Skyfarer will benefit from the business and research facilities at ESA BIC UK’s location at Space Park Leicester in the East Midlands.

Managed by ESA and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the ESA BIC UK enables start-ups to keep pace with an increasingly competitive global marketplace by providing a carefully designed 12 to 24 month support package to facilitate the development of game-changing products and services.

During this period Skyfarer will further develop the software and navigation systems which underpin its autonomous drone delivery platform, using ESA Earth observation satellites to access key weather and positioning data. 

The ESA BIC UK is part of the ESA Space Solutions network, consisting of 23 ESA business incubation centres across Europe as well as ESA technology brokers and application ambassadors, which helps entrepreneurs in Europe develop space-based products and services.

Niels Eldering, Head of the ESA Space Solutions Section, said: “With the UK representing an important part of our journey, the ESA BIC network has grown to 23 ESA BICs, supporting entrepreneurs all over ESA member states to bring space as a business solution to the market.

“Reaching this milestone is so crucial to show that we are continuing to support our entrepreneurs, who are transforming their promising ideas into successful products and services, creating jobs and prosperity. The UK is setting a clear example of this commitment to the entrepreneurial community.”

The ESA BIC UK is supported by ESA, the UK Space Agency, STFC, and the University of Leicester.

Paul Vernon, Executive Director of Business and Innovation at STFC, said: “For any start-up, turning a great business idea into a profitable, marketable offering is a daunting challenge. Here at STFC, through the ESA BIC UK, we can provide the right environment and support to do this. It’s really encouraging that our incubatees are continuing to maintain an 89% survival rate, despite the challenging times created by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I’m thrilled to be celebrating this major milestone with Skyfarer, whose innovative use of satellite technology sets out not only to support the NHS and save lives, but also to reduce emissions created through our traditional transport systems. The ESA BIC UK is clearly playing a crucial role in maximising the potential of space for future economic growth, creating jobs and profitable businesses.”