The Missing Link to the Last-Mile Strategy to Value Creation in NewSpace
Have you wondered which NewSpace companies are really generating revenues and creating value today? NewSpace has been a buzzword in the space industry over the last decade, with the foundation ethos of the movement to challenge the traditional ways of space exploration that are widely considered as too expensive, time-consuming, and lacking in room for inventive risk-taking. A lot of the buzz is around the promise that NewSpace will play a role in bringing prosperity to communities in the most remote parts of the world, disrupting the barrier of adoption of technology by reducing prohibitive costs, eventually creating an environment for a more inclusive nature of development across the globe.
In this path, the first goal most NewSpace entrepreneurs identified has been to reduce the cost of access to space. With more than a decade of development, new rockets of different class/technologies, smaller satellites packed with big capabilities, and new architectures for ground operation have all been put in place as the necessary innovation in the upstream of the space value chain that hopefully translates into catalyzing downstream adoption and utilization. One of the major hurdles solved during this process was the access to private institutional financing with more venture capital being poured into space today than ever.
Now that several of the upstream initiatives have matured and have created a foundation for new services on top of this layer, relatively new to NewSpace are the several downstream initiatives kicking off to use Big Data and communication capabilities to create value for end-markets. This fits the narrative of NewSpace creating new profit incentives, and otherwise improving the basic economics of space endeavors. However, the question of for whom we should create these new markets is an interesting one to ask.
If one takes a back-of-the-envelope numbers viewpoint to venture creation in NewSpace, perhaps there are a couple thousand ventures across the world today that claim to fit the NewSpace ethos. While remote parts of Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are projected as the poster child for much of the NewSpace efforts, there are perhaps less than 5 percent of these ventures created within these geographies. Though these local entrepreneurs are best positioned to deliver last-mile solutions, they are faced with challenges such as regulatory barriers (e.g. communication services, access to imagery), given the nature of administration of space-based services. They also face a distinct apathy by local institutional private capital (which is almost non-existent) to scale any efforts due to the fact that local investors have had no history investing into such high-technology areas or fail to see transparent exit strategies to take any risks.
Moreover, last-mile solutions and initiatives toward realizing them are very different across geographies. For instance, crop insurance, which is one of the target markets for NewSpace data analytics companies, is approached differently across geographies in terms of administration, regulation and implementation methods. The 80-20 rule to creation of value is perhaps switched today in the case of creating value-based services out of NewSpace activities. A decade ago a really difficult problem to get off the ground has now become much easier with standardization of several parts of value chain, while creating scalable adoption chains for end-markets need much more intensive efforts today.
Large parts of the global NewSpace community seems to fail to appreciate “glocalization” — the necessary social and cultural capital for creating successful businesses that can design last-mile solutions that resonate with their local administrative and institutional frameworks. Therefore, it is in the interest of both NewSpace ventures and institutional investors to work with (if not invest) with local entrepreneurs and evangelists in regions such as India or Africa or Latin America to understand different adoption chains, so that these new markets can indeed be catalyzed today toward fruition tomorrow.
It will indeed be interesting to watch the growth of the NewSpace ventures who strategized based on investing in “glocal” models of space-based services, appreciate the subtleties of the adoption chain and, have a more inclusive approach to scaling their business against the ones who haven’t.
Narayan Prasad is co-founder at satsearch.co which is building the “data layer” for the space industry using proprietary Electronic Datasheet (EDS) technology, ensuring that we can collectively achieve our daring goals in outer space. Curator and Community builder of Space 2.0 folks in India with NewSpace India as a platform.