STFC celebrates £100 million raised by space tech start-ups

Power plant

Investment success for space tech start-ups tackling climate change.

UK start-ups at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre UK (ESA BIC UK) have raised over £100 million in equity investment collectively.

Part of the world’s largest business incubation programme for space tech start-ups, the ESA BIC UK is managed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in collaboration with:

  • ESA Space Solutions
  • UK Space Agency
  • University of Leicester.

Since 2011, it has supported more than 100 UK start-ups, using space and satellite technologies to develop new products and services across a diverse and exciting range of sectors.

Enabling industry to tackle climate change

The £100 million milestone follows substantial new equity funding raised by two alumni companies of the ESA BIC UK.

Both companies have developed technologies designed to support industry in the mission to reduce greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions.

Around half of all companies supported by the ESA BIC UK are helping to tackle climate change across industries, from developing more sustainable rocket fuels to helping commuters to choose greener transport options.

Smart Green Shipping

Illustration of Smart Green Shipping.

Credit: Smart Green Shipping

The shipping industry is responsible for around 940 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, and the International Maritime Organization has set a target for this to be cut by 50% by 2050.

Smart Green Shipping (SGS) has raised £1.8 million towards its technology for the shipping industry that will use wind power to generate fuel savings of at least 20%, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding, from Scottish Enterprise, is part of a £5 million project to develop and test its wind-powered wingsail technology for merchant ships, including 40,000 ships already in operation.

SGS will demonstrate this technology on a commercial ship within the next 12 months.

Space tech meets wind power

As part of the ESA BIC UK, SGS used satellite data to develop the software for its digital tool, ‘TradeWind’.

This tool will enable a vessel to predict the available wind power for each journey, and to optimise its route to minimise fuel consumption and arrive at a port at a designated time.

Diane Gilpin, Founder and CEO at SGS, said:

Joining the ESA BIC UK was of key strategic importance to our mission, to drive the uptake of renewables in the maritime industry using wind power.

The development of our digital tool at the ESA BIC UK has played a critical role in our efforts to support ship owners assessing the commercial viability of installing wind-assist solutions on their ships.

An inspirational example

Paul Vernon, Executive Director of Business and Innovation at STFC, said:

Turning a great business idea into a profitable, marketable offering is a daunting challenge for any business, but at STFC, through the ESA BIC UK, I am excited to have supported SGS in the development of such pioneering technology.

Combining satellite technology with wind power in a mission to reduce CO2 emissions in the global shipping industry is an inspirational example of how space can help address both our environmental and industrial challenges.

I wholeheartedly congratulate SGS in its newest funding success and wish it every success as it takes its business to the next level.

Making an impact

Christopher Mcquire, Head of Local Growth at UK Space Agency, said:

This £100 million fundraising milestone is an incredible achievement, and we are proud to have supported the ESA BIC UK’s work with exciting start-ups that are helping to grow the space sector across the UK.

It’s fantastic to see SGS in Scotland, and Mirico in Oxfordshire, both making an impact with innovative technologies to help industries around the world significantly reduce their carbon emissions.

Their success demonstrates the heights that forward-thinking UK space sector businesses can reach when given the right support to catalyse investment. We look forward to following next steps from all UK businesses involved in ESA BIC UK.


Tighter regulations on air quality are driving up the demand for more accurate, reliable and versatile gas sensing technologies.

STFC spin out Mirico has raised £2 million to accelerate the roll out of its technology that will help industrial companies monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and reach their net zero targets.

At the ESA BIC UK, Mirico used advanced laser techniques originally developed at STFC’s RAL Space to analyse gasses in planetary atmospheres, to monitor very low levels of greenhouse gases.

Achieving net zero

Mirico’s technology enables a business to detect exactly where traces of carbon dioxide are coming from, for example if they originate naturally from plant respiration, or through the burning of fossil fuels.

Mark Volanthen, Chair of Mirico said:

I am pleased to see the unique technology my team and I initially developed at RAL Space enabling effective greenhouse gas monitoring.

Investments like this are essential to ensure this important technology can play a key role in enabling industries to reach their net zero ambitions.

Since graduating from the ESA BIC UK, Mirico continues to locate at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, where it now employs 14 members of staff.

Tackling our environmental and industrial challenges

Dr Elizabeth Kirby, Director of Innovation at STFC, said:

Mirico’s journey from STFC patented technology, to achieving multi million pound international investment, is excellent news for this pioneering spinout. It is also a fantastic example of how world leading technology teamed with the right business support in the early days can help a company flourish.

SGS and Mirico have successfully adopted technologies originally developed for space, and have applied them to tackle our environmental and industrial challenges.

It has been a fantastic opportunity to support these businesses in the development of their cutting edge technologies, which are set to bring significant benefits to the industry and our planet.

Space for commercial success

The ESA BIC UK provides starts ups with 12 to 24 month support package to help them through the development of their game-changing products and services in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace. This includes:

  • around £43 thousand funding
  • access to IP, technologies and expertise generated by ESA research
  • access to STFC’s world class expertise and research facilities
  • dedicated business support.

Tangible business benefits

In addition to raising more than £100 million in equity investment, ESA BIC UK start-ups sustain over 600 highly-skilled UK jobs. They contribute £30 million in gross value added to the UK economy every year.

ESA BIC UK graduates also enjoy 95% survival rate over five years, more than double the UK average, despite the economic uncertainties of the last few years.

Get involved with the ESA BIC, wherever you are in the UK

Up to 15 companies per year can join this UK-wide programme at:

  • Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire
  • Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region
  • The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh
  • The University of Leicester’s new Space Park Leicester.

Each location is firmly associated with world leading specialisms, providing a unique network of:

  • science
  • innovation
  • business opportunity.

Companies joining the programme can benefit from these specialisms wherever they are located in the UK.

Calls for proposals to join the ESA BIC UK take place throughout the year.

Find out more about the ESA BIC UK, and how to apply.

Top image:  Credit: ilbusca, E+ via Getty Images

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