YOUNG entrepreneur Tom Walkinshaw is living the dream of many little boys – to build a rocket and send it into space.
Well not a rocket, exactly, a satellite, and he’s part of a growing cluster of businesses in Glasgow working on the ‘final frontier’ and contributing more than £130 million to the Scottish economy.
Founder and CEO of Alba Orbital, and listed as one of the rising tech starts in Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Walkinshaw has been designing, prototyping and latterly building cube satellites for three years now.
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He’s enjoyed very rapid growth, but it’s not without its challenges. “Launching a tech startup is a rollercoaster, and the space aspect adds to the difficulty,” admitted Walkinshaw. “Tech startups are volatile so being able to apply tech solutions to real world challenges in a sustainable manor are always challenging.”
Walkinshaw believes there are opportunities to build world-class space companies in Glasgow and he says Craig Clark of Clyde Space deserves a lot of credit for attracting so many international organisations to the city.
“Success breeds success. Glasgow will build more satellites than any other city in Europe this year, only San Francisco produces more,” he said.
Scotland is currently home to more than 100 organisations engaged in space-related activities. Sixty-seven of those are headquartered in Scotland, generating some £131m.
Around 18 per cent of the UK’s space sector employment (7,000 jobs) are now based in Scotland.
There are also a number of internationally recognised space companies here developing both affordable satellite hardware and the applications that harness the data satellites provide.
Large companies and SMEs alike are increasingly using space data, gaining insights into a wide range of areas including weather, transport networks, flooding, forestry and tracking icebergs.
Director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at the University of Strathclyde, Malcolm Macdonald, believes we are increasingly seeing successful space companies from around the world being attracted to Scotland, and particularly to Glasgow.
“The strong links between the University, the sector and government have fostered an innovative environment where together, we can develop disruptive technologies and harness the satellite data needed to have a real impact for business, industry and wider society.”
Last week Macdonald hosted the inaugural Data.Space201 at Strathclyde, bringing together the world’s space data community to discuss how satellite applications could be used to support a wide range of sectors. With this kind of innovative environment and strong relationships with all those involved, it’s clear to see the opportunities ahead.
Walkinshaw says initiatives like the Scottish Space Network are vital to help foster ongoing success of the sector.
“And it would be great to see Scottish Enterprise prioritise the sector,” he added.