Sunday, November 28, 2010

Interview with the Founder of The NewSpace Business Group

Are you a NewSpace organization? Could you use a group of MBA’s at your disposal to complete company projects without the cost of keeping them on your payroll? Meet the NewSpace Business Group. Think of the NewSpace Business Group as a network for nearly minted passionate, space-minded MBA’s that gain valuable business experience by solving real world problems for the NewSpace industry.

So listen up Altius, Armadillo, Bigelow, Masten, XCOR, SFF, and NLV Challenge competitors. The NewSpace Business Group is available to assist with your:
  • Market Research
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Pricing Strategies
  • Business Development Strategies
  • Business Plan Development
  • Internships
  • and more.
Here is an interview with the group's founder, Jonathan Card (another interview in the series from Space Studies Institute’s Space Manufacturing Conference 14).

Q: Describe the NewSpace Business Group.

Jonathan Card: The NewSpace Business Group is a student group for business students, historically at the MBA level, interested in space businesses. We are focused on bridging the gap between the space technical community and other specialties in business that are necessary to run a successful company. One of the most destructive things that our current space policy has done is that NASA has frequently had to act as the intermediary between the space companies and the public. NASA's goal has been to foment experimentation and technical advances that were necessary in the 1960s to get humans to space.

Unfortunately, it's not enough for the technology to exist, but it has to exist in a network of social institutions that manufacture it, improve it, and operate it and there has been limited success in forming these kinds of institutions. This is very difficult for the government to do in a democracy, but NASA has recently begun to rectify this. COTS, SBIR, and, I think, Obama's recent NASA budget have started to bridge this gap.

The NewSpace Business Group is a setting for people in the space community to apply what they are learning in school to the industry that needs to learn it and so that business people that specialize in Marketing, in Finance, or in other aspects of private companies can learn from the NewSpace Business Group members on their campus that space is a viable place to do business and make a profit. It's less and less true that there's only one customer (NASA), that you need to get money (from NASA) before you can build anything, that you need to structure your company around government contracting and procedures.

Q: There are many other campus organizations. Why do you think you will be able to attract top business talent?

Jonathan Card: Because space is awesome, of course! It's space! Seriously, though, space is the New World of our time. It's a place that is unsettled and full of riches, from solutions to the energy crisis to new IP that can only be discovered in space. It is what will keep our civilization alive when an asteroid comes to finish us off like the dinosaurs before us, when nuclear weapons finally get out of hand, and when some unknowable tragedy strikes our ecosphere. In the end, money is the way for the people to show what's important to them; since space is important, there must be money to be made and the one to figure it out, gets to keep it. Fortunes were made, lost, and made over and over in the transatlantic trade and in the mines and forests of the New World. It will happen again in space.

Q: How do you see the NewSpace Business Group benefiting the NewSpace industry?

Jonathan Card: I would like to see NewSpace alumni forming the next cadre of managers and entrepreneurs of space-oriented companies. There are a lot of exciting companies coming of age right now and there are still holes to be filled in. Companies are just learning to talk to each other, how to do business with each other, and what institutions other industries created for themselves that space companies don't have because the unrelenting NASA-focus of the past has prevented a mature industry from emerging organically.

There are opportunities here that we haven't yet dreamt, and they are problems that MBAs and other business school students study full-time. We are the leaders that will make this industry make money and will make money elsewhere and bring it to NewSpace and so into the future.

Q: What you like the NewSpace Business Group to grow into over the next few years?

Jonathan Card: I'd like to make it into a national campus organization whose members know each other, work together, and can learn to rely on each other. I'd also like to make it into a group whose name becomes a credential; that, with the NewSpace Business Group on their resume, business school students can be assured of at least an interview with investors, companies, and other firms in the space industry.

Q: How can the New Space Industry benefit from your group’s efforts today? Internships? Projects? Other?

Jonathan Card: We have done projects for NewSpace groups already; we helped organize some of the events at the NewSpace 2009 conference (it was this experience that led to me becoming Treasurer of the Foundation) and we did an industry analysis of the future of the CubeSat industry for a Google Lunar X Prize competitor applying modern industry theories of innovation to see if we can establish some insight into the future growth of that technology. Portions of that paper are being prepared for public distribution; stay tuned to or our LinkedIn group for more information on that, probably in December. We are always looking for projects and internships for our participants. The benefits are subtle and more widespread than you may think.

Last spring, we arranged a campus talk by Dannie Stamp, the former COO of Iridium (you can watch this on our YouTube channel); bringing such a luminary to campus was important to the school and it was my understanding at the end of the year that the school was interested in building stronger ties with him. This kind of relationship can be an important way for NewSpace to be highlighted in publications and to be used as examples in classrooms. That kind of publicity, in the context of other topics, is an important way to mainstream what we're doing.

Q: How can the New Space Industry help you become successful? Where do you need help to take the New Space Business Group to the next level?

Jonathan Card: I don't really want to focus on "how can the NewSpace industry help me". It's important to me that this remains a group that comes together to help the industry. Even when we are looking for projects, it's important that those projects are not just make-work for the sake of a good idea. If we can't help NewSpace, there's no point is being a group. If NewSpace can't help humanity, there's no point in it existing. I firmly believe that for-profit businesses, and those of us that believe in the power of the private sector, exist solely to serve others and be others-centered; usually our customers. I guess the most the NewSpace industry can do for us is to remember that we are there for them, and our members are a group of people that will know something about their industry, and if they need something done or they need good people, we are here to help.

Q: If anyone reading this wants to get involved how can they get a hold of you?

Jonathan Card: will still reach me, even though I've graduated, as will any message through the LinkedIn group. This has been dormant for the last few months, but we're revisiting it and will be re-opening it for new members soon. We welcome industry members, students, prospective students, or anyone else that wants to keep up on our activities.

Q: What should I have asked that I didn’t?

Jonathan Card: What are you doing now?

The NewSpace Business Group has alumni at Sargent Controls, which manufactures parts for military and civil space and airplane parts, and we have several members that have started their own businesses after business school.

I'm working at a cloud software company, B50 Data, making software for tracking maintenance for commercial shipping fleets. We're finishing our first round of sales calls without any venture or angel capital, and we're very optimistic. In addition to polishing the paper on CubeSats for publication, I'm finishing a paper overviewing international property law and various means of resolving complex IP legal situations, like those in cloud computing, other than expanding the power of the UN.

I've also started inquiring about re-establishing the Serviceable Spacecraft Committee on Standards at the AIAA so that we can start work on docking, berthing, and refueling standards that we need in order to have things like orbital fuel depots. I've heard so many people talk about how NASA needs to start establishing industry standards, but that's not NASA's job. It's our job, and it's time we did something about it. I've gotten some interest in it from some good people, but it's still an infant idea. I'm also heading up several committees for the Space Frontier Foundation, and I'm investigating some interesting possibilities that may lead to a NewSpace company. Nothing definite yet, but I'll keep you informed.

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