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#SpaceWatchGL Interviews: Valerie Vlasenko of ArcticStartup

Valerie Vlasenko of ArcticStartup; Credits: ArcticStartup

Just recently, from May 30-31st, SpaceWatch.Global’s Torsten Kriening attended a fascinating event in a fascinating part of the world – Finland. Helsinki is home to media, events, PR and consulting companies and ArcticStartup, the brains behind Arctic15. Arctic15 is a start-up business event that gathers between 1500-2000 attendees every year and provides a matchmaking solution that brings corporates, investors and start-ups together in the same room to form new business relationships and to ultimately find opportunities to grow their businesses. Torsten spoke to Valerie Vlasenko, Editor and Curator of Arctic15 Space to find out more about the event and Finland’s growing space sector.

Can you give us an overview of Arctic15 and what you are aiming to achieve with this event?

Sure. Arctic15 is the largest matchmaking event for start-ups in Finland that takes place every year in Spring. This year will be the eighth edition of the event and this year we have given the event a very broad focus. In past years, Arctic15 consisted of 15 start-ups that would feature in a pitching competition. The idea was to find just one winner. However, this year, we decided to take a different approach. Why should there be one winner if everyone can win? We have 15 start-ups participating in the funding programme that brings together early-stage start-ups and business angels from the Nordics and Baltics to make deals together. We also have 15 different conference tracks with 15 different focuses covering emerging industries in the region such as health, AI and data all the way to the arts to space and beyond.

My personal goal with Arctic15 is to bring space closer to other industries because the problem with space is that it inspires many people and many people want to get into it, but nobody knows how. Nobody knows what the industry’s needs are. Nobody knows who to talk to if they want to raise capital for a space start-up idea and how to turn that idea into business. So now there are a lot of opportunities and my mission is to give people that knowledge and really educate them about what is possible in space.

What kind of interest is there in space in Finland? Is there a need for it?

Space Investor Panel at Arctic15; Credits: SpaceWatch.Global

There is absolutely a need for it. The space industry in Finland is a baby. Five years ago there was nothing space-related here. We didn’t have any companies or big names that were doing anything in space but now, because of companies like Iceye, people are starting to hear more about what is possible and what you can do with space data, how you can use satellite imagery in different industries. That sparks a lot of interest amongst young entrepreneurs.

My goal is to bring together those who were doing something in space here so that together we can link these industries together and really find out what is possible at the the intersection. I am really interested in exploring things that emerge from the combination of PR, space and marketing. We are covering all of these aspects at Arctic15 and I hope that people who come to the track will really be able to identify with these common points and build something on top of that.

What is the Finnish government aiming for in terms of space?

At the beginning of the year the Finnish Public Investment Authority, Business Finland, launched the NewSpace Economy Programme with ambitious plans to achieve €600 million in the services provided by the sector by 2020.

The programme aims to increase the amount of space companies, and through the programme, the government is showing that it supports NewSpace initiatives and it supports businesses related to space. Finland is very strong in several areas including: Arctic Research, due to our geographic location; weather monitoring; Earth Observation and space data. Iceye is one example and there are a couple of companies that are working with data – basically translating data from European satellites and turning that into applications. My ambition with the space track is to present all these ideas and to make people aware of it and encourage them to maybe start building their own businesses as well. The public funding is available and there are a couple of VCs in Finland that have invested in NewSpace companies already so there is some knowledge in business circles as well. Plus the ESA Business Applications Department is playing an important role in supporting these projects locally.

From the human resources perspective in Finland, how does the younger generation see or receive space. Is space cool again for them?

Impressions of Arctic15; Credits: SpaceWatch.Global

I believe that space is a big inspiration for many people here. If you ask people whether they want to go to space thousands of hands would go up. Unfortunately, we don’t have a human spaceflight programme. We don’t know whether it is going to happen in the future or not but believe me, there is a lot of interest amongst young people in space.

There are quite a few initiatives in Finnish universities to help students work with space technology and in problem solving processes, like they do in NASA for example. The Finnish University of Lapeenranta and University of East Finland both run a programme related to that in collaboration with NASA, plus there are a lot of hackathons and challenges coming from ESA and NASA as well. There are schools and universities where anyone who is interested in space can come and develop hands-on applications based on the data and tools that are provided by these space players. It is a big thing.

How does the traditional industry in Finland see space? You have big players here like Nokia. Do they want to jump on it or prefer to leave it?

I can definitely see that more and more big players are becoming more aware of the possibilities coming from the space industry. For example, the marine department of Rolls Royce will be presenting at the Space Applications Track about how they use space for better navigation in their field. There is a lot of interest but at the same time they do need to be educated about it.

Are these companies looking for data analytics?

ICEYE at Arctic15; Credits: SpaceWatch.Global

They are looking for different solutions that are coming with space data that enhance their offering. It’s a level up for their business so they can improve what they already have with this new sexy space offering.

So, speed dating and space. How does that work together?

The format is exactly that. It’s speed dating. We bring together different start-ups on one side and companies and investors on the other side so they can talk to each other in a short period of time and exchange notes and ideas. You never know where that is going to lead.

How do you envisage the space/start-up space scene in Finland over the next 5 years?

I believe that the number of space start-ups will grow. Finland is very strong in innovation and space inspires many people so I think there will be a lot more companies coming up and using these new tools for funding and growing the business. I believe it is going to grow.

What excites you about space?

For me, space is a stab into the unknown. I’m always curious to see what’s out there that we didn’t know about before. That’s really my personal driver when it comes to space. I also have a degree in space law which is how I initially got into the industry. When you’re a second grade law student you think you are going to change the world but then you face the reality and start your first job and you realise that it’s not how you expected it to be.

I decided to try something that is interesting to me personally. I transitioned from law to business and to media and events and thanks to that I can now reach more people than I could with any of my legal endeavours. I just really want to see more inspired entrepreneurs that are willing to do something in space in a country like Finland. If we could increase that number in 5 years, I would be very happy.

SpaceWatch.Global thanks Valerie Vlasenko of ArcticStartup for the interview.

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