Spaceoneers caught up with Ran Qedar, following his developments since the first Startup Weekend Space in Bremen where he led his “team USB-I” to first place.
USB-I came up with an innovative concept in the design of a universal adapter to connect a vast number of payloads with every type of satellite bus system. From the judges’ point of view at Startup Weekend Space, the team presented a strong product and a scalable business model. They won support in writing their business proposal and formation of their company, they later called Space Products and Innovation (SPiN).
Ran is now CEO of SPiN, which brings “plug and play” technology into space, reducing cost and time of satellite manufacturing through spinning in available technology and concepts, and increasing profit margins in the industry by enabling standard processes.
As an emerging space startup, Spaceoneers asked Ran about the challenges his team has faced over the past couple of years and how they went about taking their concept to create a fully-fledged company.
Spaceoneers: Tell us a bit about your company
Ran Qedar: Space Product and Innovation was established about a year ago and its main purpose is to SPiN in technologies into the space industry. Our main product is a ‘plug and play’ adaptor.
Spaceoneers: How did the idea for your business come about?
Ran Qedar: In 2014 , another co-founder Saish Sridharan and I had been working on one of the educational projects for satellites at TU Delft called ESEO and were creating a payload for that satellite. The creation of the payload took couple of months whereas the interfaces took an extra year to make. It was then my colleague from the university Saish Sridharan and I started thinking ‘why isn’t there a better process to make satellite integration, not just on the side of software but also hardware?’ Searching around, we found there is a concept for ‘plug and play’ in satellites that never really materialised for commercial satellites. We discovered that the main problem was there is a lot of need for investment in order to change the entire industry for the ‘plug and play’ concept. So from that we thought maybe there is another solution. Then we created a product that is involving an adaptor that can allow ‘plug and play’ satellites without the need in changing hardware and software.
Spaceoneers: What were your biggest challenges in getting going in your business?
Ran Qedar: I think the biggest challenge for us was to start and knowing how to start. Startup Weekend Space gave us the opportunity to come together for three days, get a lot of support from mentors in the industry, some mentors in the finance and communication world. With that we were able to establish a real business plan that would allow us to continue. In the beginning, in the space world, there were not a lot of “how-to” guidebooks how to actually make a start-up. That was the missing point.
Spaceoneers: How did you get people behind your idea once you had been to the Startup Weekend?
Ran Qedar: We established two kinds of visions in talks with our customers and stakeholders. One was about the technology: introducing technology, which is done in other fields, markets or industries, but hasn’t been done for space. We are counting on an established technology, which then makes people much more comfortable talking about introducing something new to our world. The other thing is the cost-effective solution. Our main idea and goal is to reduce the cost in the industry in one of these products, such as the plug and play adaptor. If we can SPiN in a technology that has heritage and can be of value for everybody, then it’s easier to convince people to come on board, such as a stakeholder partner or as a customer.
Spaceoneers: You talk about spinning in technologies. Is that how the name of your business came about?
Ran Qedar: Yes, that’s right. In fact, it was actually a two-month debate on what to call our company, which usually should have the word space in the name. The start-up’s third co-founder, my partner Giulia and I thought of a lot of names and since our main idea was spinning in technologies, then “SPiN” became the initials. Around that we brought in innovation, which is the goal of the company: to SPiN in technologies through innovation for space.
Spaceoneers: How did you get your team together to develop your product/business?
Ran Qedar: So, in the beginning, we were four. We were just discussing this concept and there was no company. We were just friends talking about what we could do.. Little by little we said ‘ok, let’s have weekly meetings to do something about this.’ Unofficially then, just four of us were trying to solve a problem we know exists. Another person back then, for a few months, also supported us. Then Saish suggested going to the StartUp Weekend to try to establish a company and a team.
Spaceoneers: Once you were established, how did you then get your customers interested in your product?
Ran Qedar: I think there were a couple of points of traction to establish connections to our customers at the beginning. We created a technical concept for our product, which was important for other people to show what kinds of electronics and manufacturing processes we would use to make this product and then showcase it to potential clients. It’s important for those in the mechanical and manufacturing world to have a prepared concept; else ideas that may be usually disregarded. I think the other most important part was to write problems that people incur during their work, so we went to AIT and avionics managers that know the main issue in designing satellites and manufacturing, together with the most burning issues. Then we found a way to connect what our product does to their problems and how it could solve them. We did it a lot, first of all, by doing a survey of the market externally and internally within industry and then getting to the right contact people through networks we already are part of.
Spaceoneers: What kind of technologies and trends do you think are going to drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next years?
Ran Qedar: There is a lot of movement towards serial manufacturing, not just in terms of satellites and hardware components that are currently available but it is in the level of electronics, propulsion systems or mechanical interfaces. I think a consolidated approach will be very easy if suppliers can get their products in a small lead time, able to ship a satellite to the launch site in a relatively short time. This is because of the large satellite constellations that are coming but also because new customers are not accustomed to the long time for developing satellite products. So there is a trend towards the kind of assembly required for serial manufacturing like cars or aviation.
Spaceoneers: How will these trends in technologies affect your value proposition in the near future?
Ran Qedar: For us the main value proposition is to have an immediate solution to an existing problem, which can be done through just buying our adaptor and putting it in the satellite architecture. This is involving trends where you have some sort of serial manufacturing but since this future is still a bit unclear, when satellite constellations may dominate trends in the market then our product allows people to experiment with faster and better serial manufacturing. They can invest in just a small part by buying a product without changing the entire satellite manufacturing process. On the other hand if anybody is trying to invent something new to put in new technology, we’re also able to do that, to quickly integrate it into their satellite, demonstrate it, put it in orbit and then change their innovation and uniqueness in the market as a satellite provider for the next constellations.
Spaceoneers: From your experiences, what kind of advice would you give to people thinking about starting their own space startup?
Ran Qedar: I think there are a couple of pieces of advice I’d give from my experience. First of all, know your customers; know whom you are selling to, what they want and why they should buy your product. This could be done by just asking people and reading existing materials online. The second is to know why people should invest in you. When talking to your investors or seeking funding opportunities such as government, know why they should give funds for you in order for you to make a product or to provide a service. The third is the base for the other two: know what you are going to produce. If you’re providing a service or some sort of software technology, know what kind of product you’re going to do, even if you’re not sure about what the concept will be. Look very carefully at the technology and see what you are leveraging and using in order to accomplish something better. Every time people will ask you, ‘how are you better than everybody else in the market or than my current solution?’ Your unique selling point is not just the value you give to the customer but also the value you give to your solutions.
Spaceoneers: Who and what would you say are your main influences?
Ran Qedar: I don’t like to talk about heroes or people in the industry but I do like in general, the Privatisation of space and new space technologies; the ones who are thinking of something new and extraordinary in the market, not just because there is a lot of need for this but because people just follow their vision and not what the industry thinks it needs. If you follow your vision and merge with the needs of the market, you can accomplish whatever you want.
Spaceoneers: We’re using this term “spaceoneers”, a combination of the words “space” and “pioneers”. What would you say make you a “spaceoneer”?
Ran Qedar: I’d say what makes me this kind of person is what somebody told us, that we never give up. We have a goal and vision, and as long as we can keep at it we won’t stop. It doesn’t matter how long and hard it is, we’ll keep to that vision. It’s not just because we’re very space enthusiastic but we believe something can be done in this field. If nobody else takes the stage, we’ll take it until it is successful.