Experts advise entrepreneurs in the space sector
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Becoming a space entrepreneur takes creativity, courage and endurance.
At the May 24 Space Tech Expo, space industry executives and startup founders shared advice for fledgling startups.
Entrepreneurs need to understand their potential customers, said Andre Doumitt, director of innovation development at Aerospace Corp.
“What are they actually trying to do and how are they doing it?” Doumitt asked. “If your product or service can eliminate or reduce friction points in this workflow, quantify it in terms of dollars, time or people. It’s the pull.
In some cases, an entrepreneur may have a great idea, but the timing may be off.
“Sometimes you can bring the audience with you and sometimes you can’t,” said Melissa Rowe, vice president of RAND Corp. for global research talent. “Then you may need to pivot. You may need to start working on a different problem that doesn’t interest you as much before you get to the problem that you are.
Advisors and mentors can help you.
“An entrepreneur new to the space industry will take a long time to understand the ecosystem,” Doumitt said. “We at Aerospace Corporation, as well as Space Force, SpaceWERX and other government customers, can help.”
Jason Achilles Mezilis, owner of startup Zandef Deksit Inc., who moderated the panel, said he relied on advice from Doumitt, Rowe and Rex Ridenoure, CEO of consulting firm IZUP LLC.
Mezilis, a professional musician, became involved in the space sector in 2016. Through extensive research and cold calling to people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mezilis found a role in the design of the rover’s microphone Perseverance March.
People who don’t have mentors may want to start reaching out to people on LinkedIn. But first, it’s extremely important to do your homework, Rowe said.
Ridenoure received valuable advice decades ago from rocket propulsion engineer Gil Moore of Utah State University who told a group of young engineers, “It’s not just about to know who you know. It’s about who you know who knows what you know.
“His point was that you have to know something to bring to the table,” Ridenoure said. “Then you have to network with other people who know it. If they like what you know, they’ll put you in touch with other people and it will start to snowball.
Ali Baghchehsara, founder and president of the propulsion startup Plasmos, relies on the expertise of advisors. Dirk Hoke, the former CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, who will chair Plasmos’ board, will help the company navigate space and defense. Baghchehsara’s experience is in aviation.
For plasma science expertise, Baghchehsara will rely on Plasmos’ new chief scientist, Richard Wirz, who heads the Plasma and Space Propulsion Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Richard will guide us through the company’s testing and development cycles to get there faster,” Baghchehsara wrote on LinkedIn. “Plasmos is also agreeing to purchase certain technologies it has developed over the years to help the company travel faster and help plasma propulsion become a solution that satellite manufacturing companies will want to use.”
Entrepreneurs also need to stay flexible because in many cases startups need to pivot. To facilitate this, Rowe suggests entrepreneurs write personal mission statements.
“It can be that guiding star that also allows you to make those pivots and not feel like you just threw it all away.” said Rowe. “It’s bigger than any idea.”