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We are living through a new era of space activity, and the evidence is all around us. From striking images of private sector rocket launches to new satellite and data capabilities to the innovative tools that will permit lunar exploration, the space industry is more vibrant and ripe with opportunity than ever before — and this is true not just for “space companies,” whose primary business is space activity, services and tools, but for every company.
This may at first seem counterintuitive. The current space economy is valued at $469 billion, according to The Space Report, and is expected to top $639 billion by 2026. This growing economy is fueled by thousands of businesses large and small worldwide, and many of these companies are not space-specific. Instead, they are “space adjacent,” which means their products and services have applications in the space industry, as well as in other sectors, like high-precision manufacturing, data science and artificial intelligence, and life sciences and biology.
In this era of dynamic growth in the space market, the challenge for entrepreneurs is to answer:
- Is their enterprise space adjacent or could it be changed to become space adjacent?
- What is the space market demanding and what could the company offer?
- How does the business leader or entrepreneur identify and access opportunities that require fundamentally innovative applications for space?
There is not one route or strategy that will lead a space-adjacent company into the space economy. The approach that best fits the existing business model isn’t necessarily defined by the entrepreneur or business leader. Yet, there are best practices and signposts along the way that can facilitate entrance. With that in mind, here are four steps to consider when seeking opportunities in the global space economy.
1. Start local
As with any business endeavor, opportunity requires connections and collaboration. Wherever the business is located geographically (potential in more than one location), survey the area for organizations or businesses that are already engaged in the space economy.
This does not necessarily mean seeking out a rocket launch provider. Instead, consult with large manufacturers who may be selling technology components to civil or commercial space organizations. Engage with regional military installations, where there are sure to be space-engaged professionals who can help elucidate market opportunities and facilitate introductions. Look for local chamber of commerce events related to space and explore industry groups and academic institutions that may offer space-focused seminars and forums. Ultimately, only the entrepreneur or business leader will be able to precisely identify local space stakeholders. Step one is to find them and grow from there.
2. Seek new applications for existing IP
When we think of space products and activities, some might imagine breakthrough technologies invented in government-run labs whose applications begin and end in space. This is incorrect. In fact, while some space technologies are entirely novel (e.g. scientific instruments for biological experiments in microgravity), many are simply the reapplication of space tools and services devised for use on Earth.
To wit, entrepreneurs and businesses may already have intellectual property that, with some adjustments, could be sold to companies engaged in space activities. If you are engaged in textiles, do you hold a patent on an innovative material whose properties may be useful in space operations? If your business is in the food and beverage industry, could you cater to the local space operations on Earth or even adapt your product for consumption in space? In industrial construction, artificial intelligence, raw materials sourcing, supply chain optimization, the list of industries where existing products could be used in space is unending. When seeking space economy access, entrepreneurs should look to existing IP and consult with their growing network of space industry contacts.
3. Convert data to opportunity
The space-to-Earth market accounts for most of the space economy. Put another way, the enormous data flows pouring in from satellites and other space-based assets are the currently dominant area for financial return. Entrepreneurs and businesses in the data science fields can find eager customers seeking insights and services derived from this data. This can include markets for Earth observation, climate monitoring, logistics and transportation, agriculture, water management, public health and many other industries. In this, space adjacency is defined by the capacity to process and compute data streamed from space and sell the resulting insights to markets here on Earth.
For example, an incisive understanding of water levels and drought in a geographic region could be highly valuable to water utilities, local governments and agricultural businesses. The task for entrepreneurs and businesses is to consider how to access space-derived datasets, consider their data science capabilities and look to the marketplace for the intersection between space adjacency, data insights and on-Earth demand.
4. Check for patents in the public domain
Space activity is valuable in part because the tools and technology needed to operate in space often have important applications on Earth. In the United States, NASA offers a Technology Transfer Program and a database of thousands of its expired patents that are available for unrestricted commercial use. The European Space Agency also offers a technology transfer process. These and other space agencies already did costly, innovative work to create something new. Dig through these databases, consider your capabilities and identify patents you can use to bring new products to market.
We are still only at the beginning of a new era of space access and exploration, and analysts expect the global space economy will reach $1 trillion in the coming years. Entrepreneurs and business leaders who begin probing the space domain for opportunity today will not only open new revenue streams and invigorate innovation. They will also capitalize on first-mover advantages and position their organizations to lead as the space market grows.