Geoff’s Blog: The Cassini Initiative

By Delphine Miramont and Aaron Scorsa

Cassini (Competitive Space Start-ups for Innovation) is the European Commission’s space entrepreneurship initiative whose main objective is to support start-ups and SMEs at different stages of their growth with a set of tools and fundings. Managed by DG DEFIS, Cassini is part of the EU Strategy for SMEs and will operate under the umbrella of InvestEU. This comprehensive initiative is structured to support space-based entrepreneurs according to the three following pillars:

  • cutting all components of EU Space programme
  • offering actions adapted to the entrepreneurial lifecycle
  • covering both upstream and downstream

Open to all areas of the EU Space Programme, the Cassini initiative is of great interest for EARSC members and the presentation of our guest speaker, Tomas JONSSON, raised many questions during our EOcafe. Tomas JONSSON is currently working at DG DEFIS as Team leader for Cassini and has a 10 years working experience in venture capital investments and innovation support. He introduced the initiative and detailed interesting points touching upon four main topics: the eligibility criteria, the description of Cassini’s instruments, the cooperation with other institutions and finally the policy context in which Cassini will operate.

The main purpose of Cassini is to address all kinds of space-related businesses in a long perspective. The necessity to have this long-term approach is justified by the time required to develop markets and establish a viable business. In order to support companies and increase their chances to succeed, Cassini will combine different actions at the European level. In that regard, Mr Jonsson recalled that other funding support mechanisms already exist both at the national and regional levels. Cassini will try to address the gaps and needs identified at the European level and complement these other funding support systems. The most important need identified so far is the lack of venture capital funds focused on making investments in space companies or companies creating digital applications based on space data.

As said before, Cassini focuses on space start-ups and SMEs. Despite their increasing importance in the Earth Observation sector, these companies still have difficulties in raising finance. In this respect, Mr Jonsson underlined the specificity of start-ups by explaining that they are not “small versions of large companies”. Indeed, they have their own needs and require specific instruments to develop and scale-up. Thanks to business accelerators, incubators and other tools, the European Union is now able to help them more efficiently. On that regard, the European Commission has already taken successful actions. With the European Investment Fund, the European Commission launched a pilot Investment scheme in 2019 which proved to be very successful.

On the long run, the objective for Cassini is to set up a 1 billion euros space investment fund for European companies to attract more venture capital funds and enable more companies to raise money. It is important to add that this fund will be developed under the INVEST EU umbrella, the new programme to stimulate the capital markets in the European Union. Additionally, a founder funds with capital earmarked for space investments will be created. This way, Cassini will facilitate interactions between companies and venture capital funds.

Besides the funding support mechanism, Cassini will develop other tools to help companies scale-up such as a business accelerator (with business development support in the first stage for start-ups) and a matchmaking to provide more opportunities to meet with investors and companies from other sectors and identify common interests (with other companies) to create partnerships. Cassini will also organise hackathons and competitions with prices (money) for winners.

In the scheme that we built up, we try to resume the initiatives that we described under this programme.

Preparing a Business plan 
    CASSINI Hackathons & MentoringParticipation in high profile events getting you ready to develop an application using EU space technology
        CASSINI PrizesSupporting    innovation    driven    by                       major technological breakthroughs for: best data-driven marine or maritime digital applicationsmicrolauncher
      CASSINI Business AcceleratorBusiness development support to entrepreneurs and scale-up companies in collaboration with selected top quality business accelerator
  CASSINI MatchmakingAttending one of the events in which you can meet potential clients or partners
    CASSINI Seed and Growth Funding FacilityInvests in venture capital funds that offer risk finance for SMEs and Start-ups in upstream and downstream sectors.
    CASSINI In-Orbit Demonstration & ValidationOffers in-orbit-demonstration and in-orbit- validation opportunities on the basis of what has been accomplished in the past.
Ongoing entrepreneurship actions and prize competitions 
  Prize CompetitionsGalileo Masters   Copernicus Masters
 Low-cost space launch prize (deadline to submit applications within 1st June 2021)
  Galileo Incubationfollow-up of the Galileo Masters, supports entrepreneurs and start-ups
  Copernicus Incubationfollow-up of the Copernicus Masters, supports entrepreneurs and start-ups
      Horizon projectsGo2Space-Hubs   Astropreneurs   Space End   SPACE-UP
Grow, expand sales, access finance 
    EIC AcceleratorSupports market-creating innovations from entrepreneurs and small companies by providing funding and acceleration services
    ISEPThe InnovFin Space Equity Pilot (ISEP) aims to improve access to risk finance for SMEs and small midcaps in the space domain
  Low Cost Launcher PrizeThe contest seeks to develop a solution for launching satellites into low-orbit at a low-cost
  Space endIt expands the impact and adoption of Space Tech by bringing together space start-ups, SMEs,
 entrepreneurs, spacetech providers and the digital ecosystem

When asked about the eligibility criteria, Mr Jonsson mentioned that Cassini will focus on both downstream and upstream segments. This broad scope reflects the initiative’s inclusiveness approach. As space data’s added value can best be captured in the downstream segments products and services, the Earth Observation downstream industry is eligible for Cassini. Concerning the size of eligible companies, it is important to note that the “philosophy” of start-ups, challenging the established players, is actually more important than the company’s years of existence. Finally, only European based companies will have the possibility to be part of the initiative. In that regard, the rules of InvestEU will apply as Cassini will be implemented under its umbrella.

As Cassini will operate in a specific policy context and cooperate with other institutions, our speaker also introduced the links between the Cassini initiative and relevant European policies.

Firstly, Cassini and Horizon Europe (HE), the new European research and development programme, have common objectives. Even if HE calls tackle research activities, Mr Jonsson stressed an evolution towards development and innovation. In that regard, more and more calls under HE are targeted at companies, especially at the stage where they put new products on the market. As the use of EO imagery will be compulsory in number of calls, the EO downstream industry will have plenty of business opportunities.

Cassini will also collaborate and work together with the European Innovation Council (EIC), whose activity is connected to HE. The EIC has an important budget with more than 10 billion euros, providing support for European game changing innovations throughout the lifecycle of start-ups and SMEs. Following a bottom-up approach, the EIC accelerator will give access to a combination of grant funding and equity investments. Within this accelerator, two thematic areas will be of great interest for EARSC members: “Green Deal” and “Digital and Health”.

Cassini will also work together with the European Investment Bank and the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA)1. The latter will play a significant role to implement Cassini actions. Thanks to its expertise, the Agency will help to understand where to find the market segments in which companies can grow.

In conclusion, the Cassini initiative represents a major effort to help space-based entrepreneurs with funding support mechanisms focused on start-ups and SMEs. Together with other European institutions, such as the EIC and the EIB, Cassini wants to ensure that space companies can access private capital. In the context of the EU Space Programme and the EU Industry Strategy, Cassini will offer financial support and give access to instruments to help companies grow and scale-up. Mr Jonsson was very confident about the opportunities for the downstream segment and encouraged companies to participate.

More information is to come about Cassini as several instruments will be available online soon!

1 On the 9th September 2021, EARSC will have an EOcafe dedicated to EUSPA.

Author: EARSC

This website uses cookies to collect analytical data to enhance your browsing experience. Please accept our cookies or read our Privacy policy.