Henrieta Sanislova is manager of the Westcott Business Incubation Centre. The centre’s mission is to encourage the development of new companies working in the strategic growth areas of rocket propulsion, 5G communications, drones and other autonomous systems.
“…I would strongly encourage anyone interested in working in a high-tech, high-paced environment to see what space has to offer…”
Career to date
I have spent most of my career in early-stage business support. I have always been interested in the start-up process, helping entrepreneurs to realise their ambitions and then working with them to explore the best routes to take to accelerate their business growth. It’s incredibly challenging and rewarding.
Before I joined the Satellite Applications Catapult, I worked for Oxford Innovation, working mainly with their three Investment Networks (Oxford Investment Opportunity Network, Thames Valley Investment Network and Oxford Early Investments) supporting businesses looking to raise funding from investors.
We used to host events at the Harwell science and technology campus near Didcot, Oxfordshire to showcase to investors in our network the great opportunities, facilities and activities taking place at Harwell. I was lucky to meet a number of people working in the space sector, a growing cluster at Harwell, and the Satellite Applications Catapult was just being established on the campus.
One of the core activities of the Catapult is to provide business support services, so I was really excited about the opportunity to join a sector with a dynamic and rapidly growing start-up culture.
About the Satellite Applications Catapult
The Satellite Applications Catapult is a technology and innovation company seeking to transform the way the world uses satellite technology and data. It’s a bold ambition but grounded in a real economic opportunity for the UK.
Space is a UK success story. Since 2000, coordinated industry and Government actions have trebled the size of the sector. With 6% annual growth and one third of the sector’s outputs exported, space now supports 14% of UK GDP – that’s some £250bn economic impact.
The sector boasts productivity at 2.7 times the national average and space technology is recognised as one of the key underpinning technologies for the digital age we now live and work in. The sector believes it can grow to a £40bn industry by 2030 – this is an exciting opportunity and the Catapult is at the heart of this effort to accelerate growth in the industry.
We do this by helping organisations to grow their businesses. We bring together industry, researchers, end-users and Government to explore and develop new ideas for using space technology and data.
We are part of a network of ten Catapults across the UK set up by Innovate UK, the Government’s innovation agency, and each focused on a technology that could deliver jobs and economic growth in the UK.
To help businesses overcome barriers to growth we focus on three simple principles. We work to energise new markets, which is all about working with other industry sectors to see how they might make better use of satellite technology and data.
We seek to empower technologies, so we look to see how the UK space sector could take advantage of new and emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, robotics and autonomy.
Finally, we enable growth, by providing a range of business support services from business modelling and product design to opening access to R&D, export and finance.
The Catapult has delivered over 200 innovation projects over the past five years mainly driven through our four ‘market’ programmes. These are areas where we believe there are real opportunities for space applications to make a difference. Our programmes are Blue Economy (the marine and maritime sector), Intelligent Transport Systems, Sustainable Living (energy, agriculture and the extractive industries) and Government Services.
My role day to day
The space cluster has grown rapidly at Harwell and since the Catapult launched in 2013, we have attracted over 75 small to medium sized companies to establish a base on campus. We have created a very successful network and host our Satuccino event each month where companies come together to share opportunities for collaboration and funding.
The Catapult in partnership with Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust and Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership recently secured funding from the European Regional Development Fund to establish a new Business Incubation Centre at Westcott near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, home to some of the most ground-breaking developments in space propulsion technology. The initiative is also supported by the UK Space Agency.
I am working with a team to establish a Business Incubation Centre, an Innovation Centre and a 5G Step-Out Centre managed by the Catapult at Westcott.
The best part of my new role as the Business Incubation Manager for Westcott, is that I get to be part of a new space cluster right from the very beginning as we break ground on the new facilities. It’s a great opportunity to meet new start-up and early-stage businesses that we can support and bring the same vibrance, excitement and opportunities to Westcott that we have achieved in Harwell.
Trends in the space sector
The global space sector has undergone a rapid transformation since the first satellite launched in the 1957, and there are a number of trends shaping future growth.
Once the preserve of national space programmes, space is increasingly a commercial venture with private investment supporting a new wave of entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk. These pioneers are capitalising on the democratisation of space – the opening up of opportunities to design, build and launch a satellite or a fleet of satellites to deliver new products and services from land monitoring to Internet access.
Launch costs are lowering as technology gets smaller and companies can use off-the-shelf components. This growth in small satellites is marking the dawn of a new era in space data where satellite imagery (Earth Observation data) is available more frequently and underpinned by major European programmes such as Copernicus providing data for free and commercial services offering super high-resolution imagery.
In parallel, developments in 5G and satellite connectivity and enhanced satellite positioning are underpinning developments in the autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things.
It is the combination of a changing business model, private investment and rapid technology trends that are triggering lots of opportunities for new space-based services.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist
There are lots of opportunities in space – there are lots of inspiring women with engineering and science backgrounds but there are other pathways to get into space. There are roles in management, marketing, business development and business support – not everyone is a rocket scientist.
I would strongly encourage anyone interested in working in a high-tech, high-paced environment to see what space has to offer – and the opportunities are not just in the South, there are growing clusters across the UK. We have opened five centres of excellence in Scotland, the North East, East Midlands, the South coast and the South West
I’m really excited to be opening the door to our first cohort of early stage companies at the Westcott Business Incubation Centre in the coming months and building our space community at Westcott.
Elon Musk image credit: By Steve Jurvetson [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons