An interview to IceKing GMBH
Astropreneurs: What is IceKing?
Paola Belingheri: IceKing has two aims. First to create a virtuous cycle between sustainable tourism on glaciers and scientific research. Second to tackle important challenges facing our society, including climate change, and water and energy management. In doing so, we pursue a strong social vocation, striving to improve life on Earth. We do this through our IceKing app, that will ultimately function as an aggregator of sustainable tourism services and tips to make glacier tourism less of a burden on the environment. While tourists are on the glacier, we will ask them to join a global expedition to study glaciers by uploading geo-tagged photos from their smartphone. These photos will be shared with the scientific community for free and they will be combined with satellite data to perform better research on how glaciers are melting in response to climate change.
Astropreneurs: How did everything start?
Paola Belingheri: The idea for the company came about at the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, an international hackathon run all over the world every year. The beauty of joining such a hackathon is that you can meet many space enthusiasts with very different experiences. In our case, we were a group of seven people that met at the hackathon with backgrounds ranging from environmental and aerospace engineering to business and design. We decided to respond to the “Live Earth” challenge, which challenges people to use Earth observation data to provide information about how our planet is evolving. Our solution to combine in-situ photographs from tourists and satellite data from Copernicus to improve research on how glaciers are responding to climate change, was awarded the “Galactic Impact Award” on a global level by NASA and that’s when we started thinking we were on to something! From there, we applied for grant funding and started to piece together our business plan, where we decide to create a virtuos cycle between sustainable tourism and citizen science.
Astropreneurs: What are the opportunities in Europe for a downstream space startup to get started?
Paola Belingheri: In our experience, there are many great opportunities in Europe for startups working on space downstream services. Two very important providers are the European Space Agency and the European Commission. We were recipients of the Earth Observation Entrepreneurship Initiative (no longer running) seed grant of 15k€ that enabled us to further develop our business plan and to test some of the technologies and services we needed to bring our product to market. We also applied for the Copernicus Masters, a yearly prize for business ideas using data from the Copernicus Earth Observation program. There are cash prizes worth up to 10k€ for first place, however we came in second and received six months of mentorship from Victor Rijkaart (from CGI Innovation & Entrepreneurship), who is still a great supporter of our initiative. In the meantime other programs have been created such as the Copernicus Incubator, which provides up to 50k€ of funding to support companies being incubated in their local ecosystem. If your company is further along, you can also keep track of the ESA Earth Observation Directorate and the ESA Integrated Applications Directorate that also have funding programs for R&D activities involving space downstream services.
Astropreneurs: Which are your next steps?
Paola Belingheri: We have just founded our startup in Lower Austria and we have recently rolled out our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) version of the IceKing App on the Apple store. In its current version, our app collects photographs for citizen science. The exciting news is that we have been selected for a two-year incubation period at the Wiener Neustadt Business Incubation Centre in Austria and have received a 50k€ grant over two years to further develop our idea, as part of the ESA Business Incubation Program. We are excited to use this funding to further develop our app and find our ideal product-market fit.
Astropreneurs: You are all Italians, but IceKing is an Austrian company. Why?
Paola Belingheri: Our initial preference was to set up shop in our home country. However, the more we learnt, the more we realised that it was very important to have a great fit between the country we were operating in and our vision for the company. This fit is very helpful in terms of funding opportunities, networking, recruiting, and visibility. We started to look further afield and we thought about the USA, northern Europe, and also Austria. We ended up choosing Austria for a combination of great fit and manageable logistics. The Austrian ecosystem is growing very rapidly and they have excellent services for foreigners wishing to start a company, especially to overcome the language barrier which should not be underestimated, since you have legal requirements to take care of!
Astropreneurs: Do you have any suggestion for wannabe astropreneurs?
Paola Belingheri: First of all, go for it! We made many mistakes since the beginning of this adventure but we have learnt a lot and this has helped us grow stronger. Test your assumptions as realistically as possible, build mock-ups, and talk to your prospective clients A LOT. Get an interdisciplinary team together as early as possible as this will enrich your development process. Most importantly, though, do something that you are passionate about and that you enjoy doing every day!
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Posted by Fabiana Milza