(photo taken at Astro Digital)
After returning from last week’s Space2.0 conference in Silicon Valley last week, a number of assumptions were confirmed. Chief among the confirmations: (a) there is significant value to be generated from location-based information derived from space-based technologies, and (b) achieving value will not be easy.
Sensors, small-sats, machine learning, computer vision, rapid analytics, new markets, etc.... These were just a few of the many topics discussed over the course of the three day meeting, and there is plenty of room for optimism regarding Newspace. But as many speakers noted, optimism needs to be viewed cautiously. As a well-known game changer in the space industry (and electric cars, and solar energy, and transportation, and…) has stated, ‘Space is hard’. Taking new concepts to market is difficult in any industry. Then when we add on risks associated with launch failure, changing attitudes towards privacy, and the proliferation of new sources of data from both ground and space, we can easily see how months can turn into years. Difficulty notwithstanding, those of us in the space-based information industry have always known that there is something ‘there’. However, monetizing what is there towards a cost effective commercial application has typically proven to be a significant challenge, with many more misses than hits. With the avalanche of new data coupled with the computational resources to analyze ever increasing volumes, there does seem to be a new sense of optimism, and the future in my view is bright. While many are in search of the killer app, practicality will trump flash, and solid technology platforms that address specific business challenges would appear to be better bets, from both a business adaptation perspective as well as a funding perspective, as many of the participants in attendance from the venture community can attest to. Further, as more back end moves to the cloud, this frees up workers to creatively engage with their data, spending more time thinking about how their structures and solutions fit the needs of commercial customers, rather than managing and organizing (the 80% of data science). It follows that partnerships will be necessary as a key ingredient for success for both large and small players. Also, no emerging company, no matter how innovative the technology may be, will receive the necessary funding and support to mature, without a solid commercial proposal. The space sector is not one where outsized returns are realized over a short time frame. Patience is needed on the part of the funders, and this needs to be balanced with the needs and focus of a solid technology platform, complimented by a management team that can balance innovation with focus.
In my opinion, this is a great time for both established and fledgling companies to be participating in Newspace. The opportunities are everywhere, but this does need to be balanced with focus. My hope, and expectation, is that many of the views and aspirations expressed at Space2.0_2016 will be on their way to becoming a reality at Space2.0_2017.