The Astropreneurs had the opportunity to interview Pouya Haschemi and Shahrokh Khodabakhshi, co-founders of HOSTmi. Read more below about this brand new startup from Germany that is filling a gap in the space sector!
Astropreneurs: What is HOSTmi?
Shahrokh Khodabakhshi: Before I explain what HOSTmi is, allow me to define the ambiguous term, payload. A space payload can be either a satellite installed onto a rocket to be launched or an experiment/instrument which will be mounted on a satellite bus or any other space platform. HOSTmi deals with the latter one.
Now let me explain HOSTmi in a few words: HOSTmi is a global online marketplace for booking payload capacity on a satellite bus or any other space platform. Hence, we act as an independent broker using Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) to best match space-experiments and payloads with most suitable hosts and flight opportunities worldwide. Clients can use search criteria to define requirements relating to both the space experiment or payload and the flight opportunity in detail, as well as generate an in-situ match with fitting hosts and flight opportunities.
We formed the company in July 2018 and have been under the ESA Business Incubation Program since August 2018. Furthermore, we are privileged to have been selected as one of the 24 Startups by ESA Space Solutions and will be showcased by ESA at the forthcoming IAC2018 in Bremen.
Astropreneurs: On your profile, you describe “HOSTmi introduces a digital platform model known from Uber, Airbnb, or booking.com.” Why haven’t we seen such a platform in the space sector yet?
Pouya Haschemi: I think it is because the space market was very conservative for quite a long period and the access to new approaches and processes had been very difficult. However, it is understandable where this barrier comes from. For a long time, the technology for almost every space mission had to be customized, which led to high development times and costs, thus creating a zero-tolerance mindset for new approaches.
But, the technology and business operations, are changing rapidly and making big steps forward to a more receptive market. The trend continues to go towards standardization and the use of commercial off the shelf components (COTS). We are already seeing some technologies entering and driving parts of the market, for example the standardization of CubeSats. Also, standard interfaces , either exterior or interior, are a good example of how a certain level of standardization can be achieved.
If we continue to follow the trend, we see that an appropriate environment for this market change must be introduced and developed to ensure sustainable growth. The first web platforms on which rocket capacity is shared between different actors are already leading the way. However, no scalable solution has been introduced that could fill up a satellite bus or any other space platform with multiple payloads to avoid “empty seats”.
Astropreneurs: HOSTmi aims at developing standardized processes for matching payloads with flight opportunities. We have a seen a standardization with the introduction of the CubeSat form factor, as well as the ISS experiment racks. Are these domains your primary target in the beginning? Moreover, have you already been successful in matchmaking?
Shahrokh Khodabakhshi: Yes and no. Yes, because platforms such as the CubeSats and the ISS experiment racks simplify the matching process considerably and accelerate the entire process beginning from booking to starting a mission. These technologies have clear requirements regarding the payload to be transported.
However, I would like to mention that we are looking beyond that market. We will consider the entire payload market from the outset. There are various suborbital platforms that have their own clear specifications regarding the payload. Similarly, there are certain technical payload requirements for satellites bigger than CubeSats which must be met by the payload. These are the criteria we focus on to generate a match between payload and platform, and flight opportunity respectively.
The service provider used, in the end, is entirely up to the payload customer. Here, I always like to draw a parallel to Skyscanner.com: if you are looking for a flight from A to B, you will have several options. You do not always choose the cheapest flight. It is the complete package that leads to the decision: price, time, and range of services. We are convinced that these characteristics will also drive the decisions by the payload owners within the space market.
We have not yet been able to generate a match in the real world. We are still a young startup in the development phase, but we have collected loads of information and received positive feedback from a variety of stakeholders. Currently, our goal is to find the right partners to start a pilot project to define further requirements. We are on the right path and hope to be able to publish exciting news in the near future.
Astropreneurs: The space sector is traditionally confined to national, or at least continental, borders. How would you like to overcome barriers that have historically restricted the space industry?
Pouya Haschemi: The space market has truly become a global market and is still changing rapidly. Rather soon, restrictions by national or continental borders will erode or disappear completely.
Some of these borders are already gone. In the case of the Hayabusa 2 mission, for instance, there was a hosted payload on a Japanese spacecraft which was developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French Space Agency (CNES), a collaboration of at least three nations. This collaboration is not a special case; it is rather common. With the further commercialization of the space market and more private sector entities involved, such borders are fading, and the international trade laws are coming into effect.
Astropreneurs: Full-mission providers, such as Open Cosmos, are emerging. Do you see yourself in competition with such providers? Moreover, what is the benefit of using your platform as compared to directly approaching the provider?
Pouya Haschemi: No, actually quite the opposite! We are basically no competition for anyone out there. Rather, we take advantage of such great service providers and are interested in integrating their service into our platform. The more of such service providers there are, the more diversified the market is and the more the payload owner profits.
You have to consider us as a neutral and centralized marketplace where payload owners have all service offers worldwide at a glance. This statement somehow answers your question as to why our platform should be used alternatively to contacting the providers directly.
Let’s imagine the following: as a customer, I would like to fly my payload or experiment on a platform. To whom do I turn? How many new services are out there? What is the range of services offered by the providers? There are numerous questions to ask. After an extensive search, I might find a provider who could take my payload to space. Initial contacting begins, information is inquired, sent and exchanged, several meetings are organized involving travel and coordination, and in long iterations, an attempt is made to find a solution. The whole thing takes time and patience from both parties. The vision of HOSTmi is to save these headaches and to complete this process of screening and pre-selection as well as finding the best potential match within seconds.
Astropreneurs: Elon Musk describes starting a company as eating glass and staring into the abyss. At the same time, starting a company is an enriching and exciting experience. At HOSTmi you are part of a two-person core team. Tell us more about the process of starting a company right out of university?
Shahrokh Khodabakhshi: To answer this question, I would like to start with the beginning. Like so many other ideas, ours began with a little thought play and a conversation. After some back and forth we had – so we thought – a solid business idea. Pouya and I both worked at the Technical University of Darmstadt on a project called “Space Factory 4.0.” We turned to our professor, who led the project, to present our concept and seek his advice. We also consulted a variety of space experts. Despite certain gaps in the design, we received very positive feedback, which, of course, motivated us to stay on the ball. One of the many advantages of starting a company out of a university is that you have contact with very competent individuals who can advise you with their knowledge and their network in early stages.
You often hear from successful entrepreneurs or employees that the best time to start a business is as a student. I definitely agree with that because as a student I don’t think you take a too high of a risk. Nevertheless, I have to add a hesitant “but” and clearly refer to the first sentence of your quotation from Elon Musk. Studying, working part-time to earn some money, and starting a company can sometimes be challenging and lead to very long nights. But, if you do something with pure passion, then this time is also very valuable and exciting.
A problem shared is a problem halved, which undoubtedly applies to us. My partner and co-founder, Pouya, and I are a very well-rehearsed team. We have been friends for years and have worked together on several projects. Thus, challenges which we encounter almost daily can be mastered much more solidly and efficiently than if we were to face them alone. Therefore, I am very happy to go through this process and these experiences together with my partner.
Astropreneurs: You are incubated at the ESA Business Incubation Center in Darmstadt (ESA-BIC Cesah), as well as mentored by Joerg Kreisel (JKIC). Were there other information resources that you found useful in the process of starting a company?
Pouya Haschemi: As already mentioned, our initial contact with our professor and the institute was very helpful. Later on, our telephones and this year’s International Aerospace Exhibition (ILA) in Berlin brought us a lot of added value.
We have been outgoing from the very beginning and still are today. We often grabbed the phone and pro-actively called potential clients to introduce ourselves and our planned service and collected feedback. We have also often directly asked whether such a service would be suitable for them and whether they would use it. Slightly surprised by the accessibility, openness, and willingness for these people to take time for us, we were very happy to be able to validate and further refine our service. Apparently, many stakeholders judge our HOSTmi approach as the missing part of the puzzle.
At this year’s ILA in Berlin we took the opportunity to talk to many individuals personally. We prepared ourselves for the discussions with specific questions and were able to obtain very constructive feedback, which ultimately had a decisive influence on HOSTmi. At this fair, we also had – after precursor phone calls – our first personal meeting with Joerg. He instantly supported us in our idea and became our mentor. His all-embracing experience and expertise are very valuable for us as entrepreneurs and as people. It turns out that there must be the right chemistry and passion from the start. And, space sector intelligence and good connections are crucial.
Being part of the ESA Business Incubation Program means a lot to us. We are offered not only great support, but also access to their deep network. A good network is incredibly important for a young company like us. Special programs within the incubation period open even more doors for us. An example of this is the opportunity mentioned above to exhibit at the IAC, showcased by ESA. That is really cool!
Astropreneurs: Last but not least, what advice would you give entrepreneurs that aspire to start a company in the space sector?
Shahrokh Khodabakhshi: To be honest, it’s quite hard for me to give advice to anyone because we are still at a very early stage ourselves. But, students and entrepreneurs who find themselves in the same position we are right now and face the question of whether to dare to start a company in the space sector, I would answer the following: if you want to start a company, then do your homework as best as you can and talk to experienced individuals. Listen carefully to what they say. Make sure you find an advisor who shares your vision.
Since I have a passion for basketball and am a big fan of Kobe Bryant, I would like to quote him here because this sentence is true in all life situations, including starting a company:
“If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail!”
Pouya Haschemi: Joerg also shared another strong new business venture saying with us, “The power of a singular idea is only as strong as the visionaries who bring it to reality.” – Looks like it is on us now.
Posted by Timo Rühl