ESA Business Incubation Center was launched in Switzerland in 2016 and is the place for entrepreneurs with a “space connection”. Nanja Strecker, Managing Director of ESA BIC Switzerland, explains why that doesn’t necessarily mean rocket science and how your startup can benefit from the program in the full interview.

Nanja, who are you and what do you do?
I am an Innovation expert by training and previous experience. I can also be considered a sport “geek”: I am a former competitive athlete and vivid follower of various kinds of sports. I will even go to the Olympics in Korea soon! Now I am Managing Director of the ESA Business Incubation Centre Switzerland. This means I am leading and managing the program. The great things is: every day is very different, that is something I much appreciate.

What is the idea behind ESA Business Incubation Center Switzerland?
ESA BIC Switzerland is a start-up program that supports start-ups “with a space connection”. This means, that those start-ups are eligible that either use some technology related to space for another application on earth (from Space to Earth), or that have some technology used on earth, that could also be used in space (From Space to Earth). Two examples:

  • From Earth to Space: Anybotics offers a legged robot that has been tested on earth for various applications. The ANYmal could potentially also be used on some other planet in space, in the future. This is why they are in the ESA BIC CH program.
  • From Space to Earth: Embotech has already been in contact with ESA before entering the ESA BIC CH program, because ESA is exploring their optimization software for re-landing rockets. Within the ESA BIC CH program, they are exploring the use of this optimization software for autonomous driving.

The fundamental idea and driver of ESA behind this program is that on the one hand ESA thought that more space technologies could be of use on Earth and on the other hand, they concluded that space could benefit more from technologies outside space than done so far.

By now there are there are 18 ESA BICs in 15 European countries, supporting 140 start-ups per year.

How does ESA BIC support startups?
We offer four pillars of support:

  • Financial: up to 200k Euro, from ESA, with no strings attached. In addition, we offer support – if needed – to generate the required 300k Euro matching funds.
  • Technical Support: start-ups are entitled to get up to 80 hours of technical support, over two years. The technical support is individually tailored to the specific start-up and provided by the large ESA BIC CH partner network:
  • Business Support: we also provide business support on a customized basis, with experts from the IFJ/VentureKick and beyond.
  • Community Building: all ESA BIC Switzerland supported start-ups are invited to the bi-monthly Community Building events. Every event focuses on a topic relevant for the start-ups, with an expert from the ESA BIC CH network or beyond. Subsequently an extensive Q&A session takes place. And last but not least: a nice apero, to boost the community spirit and to give the start-ups the opportunity to network and learn from each other!

Why should startups apply?
As mentioned before, one powerful argument certainly is the significant amount of financial support, with no equity strings attached, equally powerful and helpful is the access to the very attractive network, which could function as tech support, development partner or indeed as a customer. The overall tech & business support is considered as very attractive by our start-ups. Last but not least the ESA label, which is a strong brand and can serve as a door-opener.

How does the process work and who can apply?
Applicants first have to register on You then get a two-pager sent to you that we kindly ask you to fill out. The idea behind this is that we want to prevent start-ups making the effort to fill out the full application documents that might not be eligible. Subsequently the start-up receives feedback from us very quickly and we orient them whether to apply for the next round, possibly later or not at all. For the submission of the full application, there are two deadlines per year, towards the end of February and at the end of October. The selection happens a few weeks later, including a jury session. Start-ups hear within 4 weeks after submission of the full application, whether they are admitted.

Eligible to apply are all start-ups registered in Switzerland, less than 5 years old, with a “space connection” (for details see question two).

The selection of companies – how are they made?
There are two steps:

  • First, a Swiss committee checks the formalities of the application, and the strength of the space connection.
  • Second, start-ups are invited to a jury session, with representatives from ESA, VentureKick/IJF, industry, Venture Capital, space experts, and ETH Zurich. Start-ups present about 15mins, followed by an equally long Q&A session. The jury decides on the same day. Details about the selection criteria are in the Open Call documents on our website.

Do you think that it is harder to find funding for startups who work with relation to space as investors may see them as higher risk and less economically viable?
Good question! It depends on the start-up and its relation to space. There are three categories:

  • From Space to Earth: no difference to other start-ups.
  • From Earth to Space: no difference to other start-ups either, because for all of these companies space is only one application area and mostly neither the first nor the most important one, because space is a small market that takes time to develop.
  • For Space only: this is probably the category you were referring to. For them, it is typically more difficult, however, right now is the time where “space is hot”, and it is easier to find funding than ever before. We have one start-up like this in the ESA BIC Switzerland portfolio right now, and we hope they can “surf the current space wave”…

Any special tips for startups in general?
Here I would like to quote Henry Ford: There are more people who surrender, than those who fail.