Discover more from Startup Pirate by Alex Alexakis
Hunting Greek Unicorns #16
Enabling off-the-shelf electronics in space, funding rounds, acquisitions, jobs and more
I hope this email finds you well. Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #16. I’m a startup guy based out of Greece, and every two weeks I will share news, jobs and more from the Greek startup ecosystem, and not only.
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🎙️ Enabling commercial off-the-shelf electronics in high-radiation space environments: A fireside chat with Alexandros Christou
This week I’m excited to chat with Alexandros Christou, co-founder and CEO of Space Talos, and dive deeper into a really interesting project, a space technology startup aiming to make off-the-shelf electronics survive and operate in harsh space environments. Life on Earth is protected from the full impact of solar and cosmic radiations, but as we travel beyond Earth’s low orbits, exposure to radiation levels increases significantly. Semiconducting materials, used in satellites electronics and solar panels, are the second most susceptible materials, after biological ones, to radiation damage. So in order to mitigate radiation damage, manufacturers add metal layers around sensitive electronics or build special types of electronics, delivering suboptimal performance, increasing cost and power consumption.
Space Talos is developing a product that is able to generate a magnetic shield to protect all kinds of electronics from radiation. Using this active shielding device, the ionisation dosage experienced is reduced and allows the use of commercial off-the-shelf electronics and sensors in space; something that could unlock vast potential in space exploration and more. All of this sounds particularly interesting and ambitious, so I was curious to learn more about:
the story and vision of this team
building a radiation shielding solution and sending it in orbit
challenges faced as a space tech entrepreneur
What is your story before Space Talos and how did you come up with the idea?
I studied mechanical engineering at NTUA in Greece and then went on to pursue a PhD in biomechanics at Imperial College London, UK. My co-founder Majed has done 13 years of research in the field of magnetics and superconductors at extreme environments as a material physicist. He had developed the core IP around the technology and when we met together in 2018, we hit it off immediately!
We came up with the idea while attending space industry conferences in the UK, where people were indicating limitations of radiation-hardened electronics and passive protection of spacecrafts. We initially got inspired by how the magnetic field of Earth is protecting us here. We read the literature on the topic of active shielding and came up with an initial idea that could be mounted on satellites.
What is your vision and what was it like getting started?
Our aim is to enable off-the-shelf electronics in space, over and beyond the radiation belts, something that has not been possible before. We are working at the frontier of sciences such as particle physics and structural engineering to develop the technology, and I cannot overemphasise the challenge of such an endeavour.
Getting started was a really interesting time! Assuming a minimum viable product, we started cold emails and calls to see if people would be interested in buying our product. As soon as we realised this is something of great potential and there is scientific evidence to support our claim, we started developing the technology. The first months were (surprise, surprise) stressful. Mainly because everything feels counter-intuitive. You enter a market with no “street credit”, you pitch for investment with a lot of risk factors unaddressed and little data, you talk to clients for a prototype you have not built yet, and try to manage expectations/negotiate. You learn to think both days and years in a single conversation; you rarely get a chance to speak to the same person twice. And you will make mistakes. I think there is a balance between taking enough care of them, so that you do better next time, but not too much that it paralyzes you from getting back into it the next day.
Things get better with experience and as the company grows. I cannot stress enough how much it helped to have another person to share this experience and support each other. Cherish and celebrate that relationship with your founder. It will be the foundation of your company’s culture.
Why is shielding against radiation an important problem to solve?
Space radiation environment is limiting the capabilities of satellites in space. It remains one of the biggest threats for manned missions to this day. Technologies that have been developed are mitigating the effects of radiation on the electronics (eg. triple redundancies), but still the industry is looking for a commercial shielding solution that would enable all the high end processing units, memories and cameras to operate in such a harsh environment. Improving the radiation environment that the satellite electronics are exposed to, would act as a catalyst for future space missions.
What does the future hold for Space Talos and who else is behind the project?
We are planning an experiment next year to test the performance of our shielding solution for printed circuit boards against high energy particles that create the single events. Such experiments are conducted in special facilities that simulate space conditions. After that, there is a lot to be done for planning the mission that will include our shielding in orbit and gain flight legacy on our technology in 2023. As you can imagine, doing an in orbit demo of your product is a long process that goes through many steps getting the green light from space agencies, finding the right launcher and testing conditions and much more.
Besides the two founders, we are very pleased to have in our team Alexandros Aerakis as a radiation engineer and Una Kranzelic as our operations & marketing analyst. Space Talos is also backed by a team of UK angel investors who funded our pre-seed round and Big Pi Ventures, a Greek venture capital firm. Their support has been exemplary during this journey. We are very pleased to have a diverse team of advisors from both industry and academia such as CB John Patterson and Prof Stephen Gabriel.
What are the challenges faced by space entrepreneurs?
Building a space tech venture is both particularly inspiring but also challenging. Everything takes more time, especially if you are building space hardware, submitting patents, getting qualifications from space agencies and testing your product inside simulation facilities or even in orbit. You would usually have to go through several investment rounds, as all the above require significant resources. On the other hand, this creates substantial barriers to entry for potential competitors giving you more time to develop your product. Team and location are super important too! Being academics and partnering with universities helped us a lot, as well as being able to apply for grants. Starting again, I would probably focus more on expanding our team early on, since it’s much harder to find people with deep expertise in what we do.
🦄 Startup Jobs
Greek startups are hiring! Here are some of the latest job opportunities:
2bullMeDiTherapy - Design Manager (Patras) - Apply here
Bryq - Front-end Engineer (Greece) - Apply here
Epignosis - Sales Executive (Athens) - Apply here
Hack The Box - Open-source Product Marketing Manager (Remote) - Apply here
Harbor Lab - Senior Software Engineer (Athens) - Apply here
InstaShop - Desktop Application Developer (Athens) - Apply here
LearnWorlds - Product Manager (Remote) - Apply here
Plum - Customer Support Agent (French/Spanish) (Athens) - Apply here
SmarterChains - Product Manager (Athens) - Apply here
Workable - Senior Security Engineer (Optional Remote/Greece) - Apply here
👉 For more open roles check out the job board here, with 347 jobs from 63 companies.
Interxion, part of Digital Realty a public US company, acquired Lamda Hellix, a Greek carrier-neutral colocation and interconnection provider, offering cloud, colocation and connectivity solutions through its data centre campus in Athens. An investment of €400M is expected as part of this acquisition.
Skroutz acquired 25% of Greek fintech startup, EveryPay, a payment gateway platform for the local market.
BibeCoffee, an IoT startup for the coffee machines industry, raised a new funding round from VentureFriends and UniFund. The total amount raised for the company, founded in 2019 with teams in Greece and the UK, is €2M.
TGN Solutions, a price intelligence tool for large enterprises headquartered in Germany with R&D in Athens, was recently featured among the top 25 fastest growing startups in Germany.
Volkswagen AG will launch a pilot project for climate-neutral mobility on the Greek island of Astypalea, as part of the automaker’s efforts to roll out electric vehicles and curb emissions.
Microsoft announced the company’s startups program in Greece, offering technology and business support to B2B startups.
CoreCare, a revenue management software for healthcare companies and a recent YC alum with Greek co-founder, raised $3M in seed financing.
Smartify, a London-based startup with Greek co-founder helping people make meaningful connections with art whilst providing museums with next generation digital technology, raised £1M from Pembroke VCT.
Causaly, a biomedical research discovery startup, was featured by Google Cloud among a list of inspiring teams helping the world navigate COVID-19 together.
ATHEX Innovation is a new startup program from Athens Stock Exchange and ACEin, the incubation center of Athens University of Economics and Business. The program is relevant for capital markets infrastructure and fintech startups and is accepting applications until November 30.
Farmvent, a startup developing an autonomous indoor micro-farm, is in the finals of Dutch 4TU Impact Challenge, a startup competition organised by Dutch technical universities.
Navenio, an infrastructure-free indoor geo-location solutions startup, secured a £400K grant from the UK government and UK’s innovation agency to improve patient flow within hospitals.
Applications are now open until December 27 for the acceleration program of MIT Enterprise Forum Greece with three tracks: general, maritime and energy.
Amidst a brain regain wave, a shift to remote working and Brexit, Greece is offering workers that relocate their tax base in 2021, half of their income tax-free for 7 years. Here’s the story.
💭 Reading or listening
An interview with Novoville, a govtech team founded in 2016 with offices in Athens and London, currently offering its services to more than 65 cities.
Antonios Chalkiopoulos, CEO and co-founder of Lenses.io, posted on Forbes talking about changing the way people work with real-time data to focus more on products and outcomes instead of technologies.
If you are interested to know more about the methods, algorithms, and tools Geekbot uses to build their bot, this is a behind-the-scenes look by Vasilis Bountris, Machine Learning Engineer at Geekbot.
The UniFund team wrote an article on investment decisions and what are the 10+1 reasons why they wouldn’t invest in a startup.
A post by Nikos Voulgaris, Software Engineer at Blueground, on the “agile theatre”. Nikos discusses about the misinterpretation of the agile manifesto philosophy, its transformation promise and searching for a suitable approach.
A 2020 Greek innovation ecosystem report by Founderhood with an overview of the ecosystem’s startups, venture capital firms, hackathons and more.
The EU tech ecosystem is booming, with startups being the fastest growing job engine! Greece is making significant progress lately, but still a long way to go to reach the average VC funding per capita. A report by IndexVentures.
Stay safe and sane,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋