Queensland space startups: sustainability success

27 June 2023

The unfolding stories of two innovative startups in Queensland appear to intersect in orbit, like the rings of Saturn. Cofounders from two companies, Valiant Space and Herik Labs, identified our state as the ideal location to launch their careers.

Each took the small step of enrolling in aerospace engineering at the University of Queensland, before making the giant leap to debut their out-of-this-world designs. Both students participated in the university’s exclusive Accelerator program. Now, these business owners are determined to make missions into our solar system more sustainable. Their efforts will benefit global supply chains.

Where the concentric rings of their stories differ, is that these entrepreneurs became enamoured with the space race at different life stages. Consequently, at the time of interview, one business was expanding, while the other was just on the cusp of creation. Further, they are each focused on distinct aspects of sustainability, with one aiming to eliminate debris and the other to decrease emissions.

Read the full article on The Queensland Government website

This article was originally published by The Queensland Government Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning.

A launch accelerator – pun intended!

The Queensland Government works with universities and TAFEs to promote clear pathways into the space sector. Valiant got off the ground with the support of the ilab Accelerator program; part of the UQ Ventures suite of entrepreneurship initiatives, delivered since 2012.

Nimrod Klayman, Head of Entrepreneurship, explained the Accelerator is designed to provide participants with a support system while building their business, but also with accountability.

“Whether that's a social enterprise, a small business or a startup, you have the opportunity to create that,” said Mr Klayman.

UQ Ventures grants participants $10,000 in funding, which is equity free. This helps startups flourish quickly. Entrepreneurs in residence offer workshops and mentoring throughout the Accelerator.

“It’s just quite impressive how much you can achieve when there's that support,” Andrew said, CEO and Co-founder of Valiant.

Valiant team members - Michael Douw CTO/Co-founder, Andrew Uscinski CEO/Co-founder, Benjamin Dodd Mechanical Engineer.

The program is competitive, with around 100 applicants and only 12 placements per program. At least 50% of the participating team must have a connection to UQ – from students, staff to alumni. Applications are first assessed by a panel, then two rounds of interviews, before final selection.

Incoming students benefit from witnessing these businesses launch, demonstrating what it takes to succeed.

“We showcase our startups actively on campus with big events,” said Nimrod. “It's a great opportunity for students to see pathways that are not traditional.”

The ilab Accelerator culminates in a public pitch night, where the participants’ innovations are presented to angel investors, corporates, academics, students and the broader community.

“The ilab Accelerator program positively impacts the local economy by helping to create jobs, attract investment and foster innovation,” said Nimrod.

“But this isn’t limited to only creating jobs, these founders also give our students internship opportunities. They’re returning as guest speakers and mentors. They’re connecting new startups, opening doors and providing introductions.”

Hydrogen fuelling Herik Labs potential

Valiant’s achievements may have inspired Brisbane-based Herik Labs; the second space startup to engage in the ilab Accelerator program within four years. The business is developing a hydrogen fuelled rocket to create a more sustainable space industry.

Cofounder Simone Wilson, saw an opportunity to reduce the costs and emissions of rocket engines.

"Engines for rockets are one of the most difficult components to make and they can be a real bottleneck in the manufacturing process,” said Simone.

Toby Herik, Simone’s cofounder, had the idea to develop a novel rocket engine cycle that uses hydrogen.

“Which I fell in love with because I'm deeply passionate about sustainability and green hydrogen,” explained Simone.

Simone believes any future mode of transport needs to have zero emissions, to be feasible.

“Hydrogen engines used to be quite complex and expensive, and this could make it cost competitive on the world stage.”

Herik Labs team - Jason Storey Toby van den Herik (Co-founder) Simone Wilson (Co-founder) Isaiah Stook

Herik Labs has already contacted green hydrogen suppliers. The hydrogen used for their upcoming test fire will be sourced from biogas wastewater. Biogas has been used successfully to produce power for the state’s beef industry. This aligns with The Queensland Government’s focus on generating renewable hydrogen.

Herik Labs have validated their technology using software, so the next step is a hardware test of the intellectual property (IP).

“It will be a bench test instead of using liquid oxygen and hydrogen, like we would in space. We're going to use compressed gas,” said Simone.

“It'll be a world first in that it's a rocket engine powered by sewerage, but it is also contributing towards us, proving the IP part of our engine.”

Herik Labs is aiming to develop a viable engine in two years, but Simone hopes they can complete it in 12 months.

Members of the Herik Labs team met while attending UQ’s engineering program, before coming together in the ilab Accelerator program, at the end of November 2022.

“Our journey through the accelerator has just been fantastic,” said Simone.

The program provides support to help startups make informed business decisions.

“We went from four people who had never done this before, didn't know where to start, to suddenly having this amazing network of people that we could tap into and pick their brain."

Herik Labs was the winner of the iLab pitch night in 2023, marking the conclusion of their participation in the program. The team hopes to increase awareness about how Queenslanders’ use space technology daily.

“Part of it is education and gaining traction and support around this new industry for Australia,” said Simone.

Their other goal is to grow Herik Lab’s network. The capability directory developed by the Queensland Government supports these supply chain connections.

“Who else is out there, what they're working on and how we can work with them to develop our capabilities as a country?” explained Simone.

Read the full article on The Queensland Government website