There are plenty of opportunities for Europe’s innovative small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to capitalise on the booming global market for satellite-navigation applications, says Boris Kennes of the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA).
“We have seen a lot of growth in the GNSS (global navigation satellite systems) market, but we’re still only at the beginning,” Kennes, the GSA’s research and development and market monitoring officer, said 3 March in Brussels. He was speaking at the GNSS Venture Academy, a half-day meeting dedicated to helping SMEs fine-tune their business plans.
Held in conjunction with Galileo Application Days, the Venture Academy was organised by Capital High Tech consulting company, under the Pegase project, a coordination and support action which received funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) to provide support for the GSA’s activities.
“We hope this Venture Academy will be a kind of think tank where a fruitful exchange of experience can happen,” said Florence Ghiron, director of Capital High Tech.
Kennes added: “The main goal of this event is to help SMEs and other companies involved in research and development programmes achieve a more successful exploitation of their research,”
In his opening remarks, Kennes spoke of the huge potential for satellite-based navigation products and services in the global market, expected to reach about €250 billion by 2030.
On behalf of the European Commission, the GSA is responsible for overseeing FP7 funding into research related to EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) and the future Galileo, the EU’s GNSS.
The GSA estimates that Galileo will increase the overall value of the market by about €14 billion over 2010-2027 in the location-based services, aviation, agriculture and road transport sectors.
“Galileo and EGNOS have a very important role to play for Europe to capture all of these opportunities,” said Kennes.
Providing participants with a progress report of the GSA’s second call for funding under FP7, he said that the agency had received 104 proposals from about 500 companies and institutions based in 40 countries.
While the second call was more competitive than the first, Kennes said this factor should not discourage SMEs with good project proposals from applying for future calls. “It’s a good chance to get some funding,” he said. About one-third of the funding will go to SMEs.
The panel focused on critical issues SMEs should address when developing satellite navigation business applications, followed by 90 face-to-face interviews between entrepreneurs and experts on fundraising, applications, legal issues such as intellectual property rights, and incubation and business support programmes.
Elaborating on the market potential theme, Laurent de Hauwere, managing director of Brussels-based Ptolemus Consulting Group, spoke about the explosion in location-based services. Out of the over 100,000 applications on the Apple store, 6,000 are related to location-based services and represent at least a $120 million (€88 million) market just for one device. The market is “quite significant and it’s growing quite quickly,” he said.
Transforming an idea into a commercial success involves shortening the so-called “time-to-market,” said Bruno Naulais, manager of the European Space Incubators Network at the European Space Agency (ESA).
“Anticipation is the key word,” he said. “You have to mobilise your energy to prepare this market access.” In practical terms, that means anticipating customers’ needs, developing a realistic business plan, having adequate staff resources, and rapid prototyping, for example through 3D printing.
A solid business plan is also a necessity for private investors, said Olivier Witmeur, a professor at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. Most of the time, an entrepreneur has only 15 minutes or so for an initial pitch to a potential investor. Among other things, venture capital executives look for someone who is experienced, committed and trustworthy.
“Prove that you are the right person,” Witmeur said, noting that the venture-capital industry is a people-oriented one: “They prefer to have a bad idea with good people, than the opposite.”
Complex legal issues
SMEs that do get involved in the satellite navigation business face a plethora of complex intellectual property rights and other liability issues, said two other panellists.
Bradford-Lee Smith, a European patent attorney and senior consultant in international property law at the Association of European Space Industry, underscored that “different types of funding have different consequences.” For example, in cases of ESA-funded projects, the intellectual property belongs to the agency and not to the company that developed the application.
Frans von der Dunk, director of Netherlands-based Black Holes BV space law and policy consultancy and a professor at the University of Nebraska’s space and telecommunications law programme, said there are two sides to all legal issues in the satellite application field – the law, which is predominantly national, and contractual freedom. “Don’t take on any liability you can’t cover,” he advised.
For Qascom's Alessandro Pozzobon the Venture Academy was a unique opportunity to meet experts in the field of security and intellectual property.
“We had the chance to present our products and to receive advices and support from worldwide leaders on face to face meetings,” he said. “The outcome was priceless and we look forward to participating at the next event.”
According to Mark Dumville of NSL, the sessions covered a broad spectrum of issues of importance to start-ups as well as to growing companies. Presentations addressed the essentials of financing, law and liability, market intelligence and intellectual property, all of which are critical to developing a successful business in a knowledge-based economy.
"Of special value to our company were the one-to-one meetings with key industry leaders in the location-based services and road transport sectors,” he said. “The comments, critique and advice that we received will certainly help us to strengthen our exploitation strategies. I would like to think we made some long-term business contacts.”
He added: “NSL would like to extend their thanks to those involved in the event and to the GSA for their support.”
Galileo Application Days
Galileo Application Days, 3-5 March, kicked off this year’s European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC). Live demonstrations of cutting-edge satellite navigation applications using EGNOS and Galileo were held at the event’s ‘Application Village’.
The event was hosted by the European Commission and was organised by the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) and the Application Centre for Satellite Navigation in Oberpfaffenhofen (AZO), the managing organisation for ESNC (Galileo Masters).
Galileo is scheduled to become operational in 2014. Fully interoperable with the USA’s GPS and Russia's GLONASS systems, it will provide highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning services.
EGNOS is Europe’s ‘pre- Galileo' system. It improves the accuracy of the open public service offered by GPS.
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Galileo Application Days
European Satellite Navigation Competition 2010