I’m excited to be teaching a course in Space Entrepreneurship for the new ISU Center for Space Entrepreneurship at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Vistor Complex this summer. Being out at KSC with the Florida Tech and International Space University team behind the endevour got me thinking about the growing need for the sort of students that ISU produces and what an amazing impact they have had on my favorite industry.
Commercial space startups are now far and away the fastest growing sector of the aerospace industry. According to Bryce Technologies, the five year period from 2013-2018 witnessed an order of magnitude increase in seed and venture capital investment. Space Angels reports that over $3 billion was invested in 2018 alone and cumulative commercial space investment is now at $18 billion. Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Deloitte and Bank of America all project a space economy in the trillions. The array of innovative technologies and creative business plans is quite literally astronomical. But if any principle in the investment community can be called “axiomatic”, it is that investors place their bets on the people, not on technologies or business plans. Technologies-market fit is notoriously difficult to get right and business plans are just always wrong the first time.
Only a great team can overcome these unavoidable problems and save an investment from catastrophe. In popular investment categories like smartphone apps (actually a far smaller market than the space business today), our universities pour out thousands of talented engineers and business graduates. Space is harder. There are, of course, many great aerospace schools including the one at my university, and they produce well educated engineers ready to take seats in existing companies. However, finding well rounded business leaders with a broad understanding of the space domain is entirely another matter.
Space leaders need to understand the science, the technologies, the economics and even the politics of space in order to succeed. Unlike apps, you don’t just imagine spaceflight and then outsource it. You have to build things and they have to exist within the laws of physics and of nations. App developers do not need to think about orbital mechanics or the national security implications of their work, but a space executive lacking those contexts is doomed to discover a a number of harsh physical realities and a plethora of rules, laws and treaties standing in the way of her efforts. Where can such people be found, besides those of us who learned space through the school of very hard knocks?
This article originally appeared on Forbes