ESA launches competition for start-ups with sights set on space

20 Feb 2020

An ESA building in Bremen, Germany. Image: © Tobias Arhelger/

Winners of the ESA’s start-up competition will attend the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai and present their projects to global players in the space industry.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that its seeking ambitious early-stage companies to join its new ESA Start-up Competition. Open to entrepreneurs in all ESA member states, the competition invites start-ups that are developing innovative services or products using space technology.

The organisation has set up the competition to give visibility to start-ups in the space sector, enabling participants to benefit from the ESA’s technical expertise and assistance.

The winners will get to participate in a mentoring programme, with tailor-made ESA technical and business support in the development of their start-ups.

The 71st IAC in Dubai

Additionally, the winners of the competition will be invited to attend the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which will take place in Dubai from 12 to 16 October 2020.

At the IAC, the start-ups will get the chance to present their business ideas at ESA’s booth and in other sessions promoted or sponsored by the ESA. The agency will be organising a global networking forum session, dedicated to the important role that start-ups play within the space industry’s ecosystem.

The ESA has also said that it is in discussions with other space agencies to organise similar competitions for start-ups in their countries, so that promising companies from around the world can network at the IAC.

Start-ups will be chosen for the competition based on criteria such as the team’s skills, resources and experience, the company’s business model and commercial viability, the potential societal impact of the project and the utility of the project compared with existing products and services.

How to apply

The competition is open to companies with a registered office and main facilities in an ESA member state, with at least two and no more than 15 employees. The start-up must be developing products or services for the space sector, whether for upstream or downstream.

Additionally, the ESA will only consider start-ups that are developing products or services that are designed for peaceful purposes.

Applications are open here from 2 March to 15 April. ESA will choose 10 start-ups to participate in the competition and will announce its selection on 20 May.

The successful applicants will be invited to present their business to ESA’s member state representatives and present a final pitch to ESA, where three winners will be selected.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic