Winning Startup and University Cohort Finalists Share Key Insights About Hyperspace Challenge

The Hyperspace Challenge Editorial Staff

We had a strong turnout of participating university and startup teams in this year’s newly expanded program! The six winners were announced at the fourth annual Hyperspace Summit along with the finalist voted Crowd Favorite. 

The 2021 Hyperspace Challenge startup cohort winners, in order of place, are Varda Space Industries, Inc., SCOUT and Neutron Star Systems USA Corp.

The university cohort winners, in order of place, are Stevens Institute of Technology, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Texas State University

Additionally, Texas State University was voted Crowd Favorite by Hyperspace Summit participants for bringing the most exciting new innovation to space.

The technologies and capabilities presented by the academic sector toward our six U.S. Space Force problem areas were exceptional and, along with the start-up companies that participated this year, provided commercial solutions and capabilities that the government may not have otherwise considered through its normal channels,” noted Gabe Mounce, Deputy Director of SpaceWERX, which includes Hyperspace Challenge.

“As an integral part of the new SpaceWERX innovation office, this new version of Hyperspace Challenge created a collective, synergistic set of capabilities that can be applied to U.S. Space Force challenges,” Mounce added.

We sat down with this year’s winners to gather insight into what they gained during their time in the Hyperspace Challenge program, what it was like to work with the program’s “problem sponsors” (participating government agencies with specific mission needs), the advice they’d give to future cohort finalists and the most valuable outcome/result of the program.

 

Hyperspace Challenge: What was the most surprising or useful thing you learned about working with the government while going through the program?

Stevens Institute of Technology: I was surprised by how forthcoming the government problem sponsors were in helping us deeply understand the current technology gaps. Learning the operational aspects of ground-based space-sensing from the subject matter experts was extremely valuable. This helped us tailor our solution to be compatible with the Air Force Research Lab’s space-sensing workflow thereby maximizing the potential impact. Our solution would be purely academic in nature if we had ignored the operational workflow.

Varda Space Industries, Inc.: The wide variety of use cases for commercially developed technology and products was helpful to understand. Varda was founded on a commercial mission. It has been surprising discovering all the ways we can support government needs while remaining focused on our commercial mission.

SCOUT: Stakeholders in the U.S. national security segment are more interested now in supporting innovation than we have seen in a very long time. Their growing support of small businesses is really exciting to see. During the Hyperspace Challenge we got the chance to hear it directly from the problem sponsors. Everyone was keen on exploring their gaps and pursuing out-of-the-box solutions, which we wholeheartedly support. This validation is very valuable to have, and gives us confidence in how to implement our solutions.

 

Hyperspace Challenge: What advice would you give other companies/university teams about how to get the most out of the Hyperspace Challenge program?

SUNY Polytechnic Institute: Work on your core pitch and core value proposition from the start and don’t be afraid to reach out for help! The program leaders are very responsive and helpful. 

SCOUT: It’s important to come into the process of customer and problem discovery with an open mind. Listening is key during requirements derivation. This lets innovators refine their offerings or capabilities to best match stakeholder requirements, and verify alignment with the actual problem. There is a mountain of data available that can be accessed by directly engaging with problem sponsors proactively and often. A lot of space start-ups love to solve problems for the next ten years, but sometimes ignore those of the next three to five because they do not address the intermediate steps, even if those steps are themselves revolutionary. We always need more context.

Varda Space Industries, Inc.: Customer insight is the most important part. Research ahead of time. Come with an open mind. Ask a variety of questions and get as much information as you can out of the meetings. Afterwards, take a high-level look at the customer pain points and how you actually solve them.

 

Hyperspace Challenge: What was the most valuable outcome/result of the program for your company/university?

Texas State University: The most valuable outcome for me was all of the great contacts I made through this program. I’ve been talking with a few other cohort finalists in the program, as well as the topic coordinator. It’s a great way to get involved and grow your network connections.

Neutron Star Systems USA Corp: Getting a first hand introduction to the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program process and Orbital Prime, as this will be the first such funding opportunity we will be targeting.

SCOUT: It gave us a platform to showcase our solutions, but more importantly the opportunity to receive direct and actionable validation for them. We were able to really listen to stakeholders and make sure that what we were building is truly important. We received validation that we are aligned with present defense challenges, and have a real solution for them.

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