Dec 01, 2017

How Earth Observation became Europe’s “Silicon Valley”

Extracted from the Copernicus Observer Newsletter

Brussels, 1 December 2017. The Copernicus Programme with its full, free and open data policy is tapping into the core of the open data movement that is powering today’s tech breakthroughs, just like open source has been key to most of the innovation in the last decades.

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With the success of the Copernicus Accelerator, and the second edition recently launched at the European Space Week in Tallinn, Europe is coaching its own generation of space start-ups that are merging the latest tech with the results of decades of Earth Observation research.

When thinking about the word start-up, the image that usually comes to one’s mind is a few people hunched over their laptops coding away the next billion-dollar company. And Silicon Valley, the tech cradle of the world for half a century, is probably where this scene is set. Europe, on the other hand, doesn’t have its iconic location for upstart companies. But it doesn’t need one. It has found another way to gather entrepreneurs around one pivotal technology – Earth Observation (EO) from space.

Most of those involved in the start-up world know its origin story, how famous tech leaders of today started off as nerds sitting in a garage back in the 80s. They were obsessed with computer technologies, something that only government and large research institutions were using at that time. Similarly, EO for a long time had mostly been the domain of governments and scientists, only those who could afford to launch EO satellites or to buy the expensive data. But the Copernicus Programme with its full, free and open data policy is a game-changer. It is tapping into the core of the open data movement that is powering the current tech breakthroughs, just like open source has been key to most of the innovations in the last decades.

However, both technical and business skills have to come together to transform a “cool idea” into a profitable business, or, as they say in the Valley, every Wozniak needs their Jobs and vice versa. To boost this part of the start-up ecosystem equation, the European Commission launched the Copernicus Accelerator.