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Space Park Leicester to host 100th ESA UK start-up

ESA Business Incubation Centres support space related start-ups to develop and grow

A technology company developing the UK’s first autonomous drone delivery network dedicated to the fast and direct delivery of vital, time-sensitive medical supplies, has become the latest company to join the world’s largest space innovation network for technology start-ups.

Skyfarer, who will have desk space and access to expertise at Space Park Leicester, is the 100th company to join the European Space Agency’s Business Incubation Centre for the United Kingdom (ESA BIC UK). Leicester hosts one of four such sites in the UK.

Since 2010, 100 start-ups have joined the ESA BIC UK, to use space and satellite technologies to develop new and innovative products and services. Since then, these businesses have raised more than £86 million in investment, filed 12 new patents in 2020 alone and, despite the uncertainties of the last 18 months, currently have an 89% survival rate.

Skyfarer hopes to develop its service – designed to deliver blood, vaccines and organs among other crucial supplies – by enhancing the software and navigation system behind its autonomous drone delivery platform, using live ESA earth observation satellites to access key weather and positioning data.

As well as the real potential for saving lives and supporting the NHS, the service would bring reductions in transport times, road congestion and CO2 emissions. Eventually, it would become available to other businesses and organisations for increased efficiencies in diverse logistical operations, safely, autonomously and cost effectively, without the requirement for a drone specialist.

Elliot Parnham, Founder and CEO at Skyfarer, said: “Making drone delivery possible is an audacious challenge and one that requires collaboration and expertise in various areas to realise the vision. Being accepted into the ESA BIC UK at Leicester is not only an achievement for Skyfarer, a company four years in the making that has persevered through multiple challenges and pivots, but an exciting opportunity to realise the vision of autonomous drone delivery of medical supplies.

“We are honoured to be the 100th company to be accepted into the ESA BIC UK and we are looking forward to the journey ahead during our incubation at Space Park Leicester.”

The ESA BIC UK is managed and partly funded, by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in collaboration with ESA Space Solutions, the UK Space Agency and the University of Leicester. It provides start-ups with a carefully designed two-year support package to help them through the development of their game changing products and services in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace.

Professor Sarah Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of College for Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester, said: “We are delighted to welcome Skyfarer to Space Park Leicester as the 100th start-up to benefit from the ESA BIC UK.

“The Skyfarer team are the perfect demonstration of how ‘space’ technologies can have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives, especially in delivering a potentially life-saving service to deliver vital medical supplies.

“We are also very proud that Space Park Leicester hosts one of just four ESA BIC sites in the UK, with our shared objectives to launch and nurture businesses which combine cutting-edge research and enterprise.”

Paul Vernon, Executive Director of Business and Innovation at STFC, said: “For any start-up, turning a great business idea into a profitable, marketable offering is a daunting challenge. Here at the Science and Technology Facilities Council, through the ESA BIC UK, we can provide the right environment and support to do this.

“It’s really encouraging that our incubatees are continuing to maintain a 89% survival rate, despite the challenging times created by the COVID-19 global pandemic. I’m thrilled to be celebrating this major milestone with Skyfarer, whose innovative use of satellite technology sets out not only to support the NHS and save lives, but also to reduce emissions created through our traditional transport systems.

“The ESA BIC UK is clearly playing a crucial role in maximising the potential of space for future economic growth, creating jobs and profitable businesses.”

Skyfarer joins LENKÉ Space and Water Solutions Ltd at the ESA BIC UK at Leicester, a start-up formed by a Leicester graduate and current PhD researcher using space data to create effective water management in the Central Rift Valley.