ESA-BIC: harnessing space technologies and innovation to boost Portuguese economy

A project based in Portugal’s Centro region has helped entrepreneurs and SMEs generate new business and innovation by supporting their access to and use of space technologies and satellite data. High-tech space-bound solutions are being used to create new products and services in sectors such as transport and logistics, healthcare, agriculture and the environment. In its first five years of operation, the ESA-BIC Portugal project helped to generate more than EUR 11.5 million in sales and turnover, while creating 30 start-ups and around 100 highly skilled jobs.

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The ESA Portugal Space Solutions Centre, based at the Instituto Pedro Nunes in Coimbra, promotes the use of space technologies to solve problems here on earth. ©ESA-BIC-Portugal The ESA Portugal Space Solutions Centre, based at the Instituto Pedro Nunes in Coimbra, promotes the use of space technologies to solve problems here on earth. ©ESA-BIC-Portugal

" The entrepreneurship new space ecosystem in Portugal, particularly in the Centro Region, is in a growth phase. ESA-BIC-PORTUGAL was a crucial tool to boost this by creating a truly vibrant community for innovation and job creation. "

Teresa Mendes, President, Instituto Pedro Nunes

The ESA Portugal Space Solutions Centre, based at the Instituto Pedro Nunes in Coimbra, seeks ways of using space technologies to solve problems here on earth. Through the ESA-BIC project, more than 30 space technologies were identified as having commercial potential in non-space markets.

To carry out its mission, the centre became the first in Europe to implement the European Space Agency’s three instruments for regional economic growth and development of downstream business opportunities: the ESA Business Incubation Centre, ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications Ambassadors.

Driving change

Start-ups nurtured through the project have gone on to develop innovations in diverse areas, from healthcare to disaster management. As well as creating jobs and growth, these new businesses are addressing urgent societal challenges related to digitisation, climate neutral operations, protection of cultural heritage and the circular economy.

For example, a start-up called Space Layer is using earth observation satellite images and air quality sensors to map city pollution levels and alert users to potential problems. Meanwhile, start-up company Findster uses GPS tracking technologies combined with a smart phone app to track missing pets in real time and reunite them with their owners.

Generating exports

The investment raised by new firms supported through the project comes to more than EUR 3.5 million. Moreover, about 67 % of sales generated are exports, which has helped the companies thrive in what is otherwise a limited domestic market. From the 30 original start-ups supported,17 are in the Centro region.

The project participated in more than 60 events to promote the space economy to young entrepreneurs. Events included the local version of the Hackathon Act in Space, a global initiative that took place in 32 countries and 54 cities across the world, drawing in around 3 300 participants.

ESA is now expanding this project model to other EU Member States as an example of how to generate regional economic growth and skilled jobs by harnessing space technology and innovation.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “ESA-BIC-Portugal” is EUR 198 557, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 168 773 through the “Centro” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Research and Innovation”.

Draft date

09/04/2020