Thomas Grübler – Managing Director & Co-founder, OroraTech

29 March 2019

During our visit to DataSpace in Glasgow, we saw a number of pitches in a quick-fire showcase of the up and coming disruptors and their exciting technologies.

The “Ones2Watch” highlighted some of the hottest companies in the industry, including OroraTech who are developing a constellation of cubeSats with infrared imagers for early detection and mapping of wildfires, tracking of extreme weather conditions and various other use cases. We spoke with Managing Director and Co-Founder, Thomas Grübler.

OroraTech logo. Courtesy: OroraTech

What brings you to DataSpace?

I was already here last year and I was quite amazed to see so many new companies growing in the sector all along the value chain – from satellite data transmission to analysis and for example helping a farmer by mapping a single field and trying to gather insights on it.

We started our project about two years ago and founded the company in 2018. Last year I was here to evaluate our business model and actually learned a lot. We started to define customer needs after the conference, identified them and applied for different grants. Last summer we were accepted for the EXIST Startup Business grant and the ESA BIC.

You’re now one of the Ones2Watch here at DataSpace. How does that feel from being here this time last year?

We are quite proud we were chosen to be one of the Ones2Watch, as one year ago or maybe half a year ago that might not have been the case. Now the conference has become even bigger and we are even more proud of it. One month ago we just closed our seed round and now we have already been approached by several customers.

DataSpace 2019 Ones2Watch. Credit: DataSpace

Maybe you can explain what you do? Maybe give us your pitch.

For this conference data space we have chosen to give a data-driven pitch, of course. We are bringing up a constellation of nano-satellites with thermal imagers. We are taking pictures in thermal IR range (mid and far IR) at very high resolution, at least two times an hour, everywhere on the globe. With these images our customers will be able to provide a whole new range of all different services. Our customers will be able to book the service based on single images, as full global live stream or as an event-based service.

You also plan to implement one service on your own directly at product launch, right?

Correct. The first event-based service we are going to provide is global wildfire monitoring. Our technology enables us to cut the time between an emerged wildfire and customer warning to as low as 30min, for the whole globe. Our patent pending imaging system is able to detect wildfires down to just 10×10 metres squared.

If you detect a fire, then who do you alert?

Until we have the constellation finished, our satellites will concentrate on warnings on areas booked by our customers. We can’t reveal their names yet but I can tell you that we are already speaking with major insurance companies, financial analysts, agencies and governments as launching customers.

What is your perception of the German start-up scene? What are the main challenges?

Germany is a bit different than the US. The typical answer would be, that you do not get funded that easy. But at the moment, we are actually quite happy, especially as a spin-off from the Technical University Munich (TUM). We originate from a former research project, the MOVE-II satellite. It was launched in December 2018. Especially for start-ups originating in research projects like us Germany has a very valuable programme, the EXIST Business Start-Up Grant. One challenge is to write this very first application, which nearly equals to a business plan. If you get it granted, as we did, it pays scholarships for three founders, office at the university including support from the professors and some budget for one year. Typically, start-ups are expected to present a final business plan after the scholarship phase so that you are ready for investors. We failed at the first try, but that was actually the best thing that ever happened to us. We rethought our business model and went all in for the second application. Now we were even able to secure a far higher than expected Seed round already in December 2018, so less than four months after founding the company. To sum up, challenges at the moment only help us to get better.

Founders Team. Credit: OroraTech.

What other challenges do you face?

We need even more investor’s money. In Germany, we do not have that many space startups. If you approach an investor in Munich, you first have to explain what space is, sometimes even why a satellite stays in orbit, what is space debris, is there still space in space. Space is also considered to be a very risky investment. So, we adopted our pitch for the local investors. Actually, we are not a space company. We are detecting wildfires all over the globe, help to prevent damages of billions of € and save hundreds of lives. Just accidentally we use satellites for this task.

What advice would you give to a space startup?

Transform your language as we did. Find a use case that solves a real problem on Earth. When your friends and family understand it and are proud of you, it might be a signal that you are on the right path. And never forget: focus your time on building a first-class team!

Satellite Rendering. Credit: OroraTech.