Space is open for business, but getting SMEs a foothold in this commercial frontier requires special matchmaking with government and defence — which Peter Rossdeutscher and Quantum TX are becoming masters at.
“The biggest gap we found is small businesses didn’t understand space,” the chief executive said. He aims to create a circular ecosystem to close the gap in support for SMEs ready to scale up and explore stellar opportunities.
Mr Rossdeutscher’s strategy is straightforward: shuttle SME technologies between the defence, energy, and space sectors. This move helps each industry, as improvements in one lead to new chances in the others, building a web of growth and fresh ideas.
Some examples of companies and technologies that Quantum TX has worked with include Universal Field Robotics, which specialises in robotics for dangerous areas, and Innovative Energy Solutions, which developed an automated cleaner for solar panels at the mine site.
Mr Rossdeutscher assists these export-oriented SMEs with cross-sector integration, leveraging government and defence opportunities. “We connect them to our networks, raise their profile and get them in touch with the right people so they can scale up.”
He points out the difficulties SMEs face in bidding for large government projects, suggesting that their scale and complexities often need to align with the capabilities of smaller companies.
“Dealing with government as a customer is tough, but it’s a major opportunity,” Mr Rossdeutscher said.
One potential solution revolves around tailored government-led programs to connect SMEs with larger projects. These programs could be structured as a requirement for large contractors, ensuring SME participation.
“For Australia to compete internationally, we need to build that small business engagement,” he said.
Quantum TX started life as a company connected to mining and energy resources. They used their robotics and artificial intelligence know-how, which they learned from working in those industries, to support the government’s big plans to become a leader in technology for space.
The companies that go through their program are export-focused. “We primarily target companies in the scale-up stage, which means they already have a product, customers, and a market presence.”
A hefty number of SMEs apply each year — around 100 — but only 30 slots are available for those with the potential to grow and extend their operations into different industries or fields. “We help them build international contacts and networks, essential for navigating organisations like NASA or the European Space Agency,” Mr Rossdeutscher said.
Collaboration helps fuel the circular ecosystem around space for companies in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, and even New South Wales and Victoria, with corporate support playing a crucial role in their work.
“A lot of the SMEs are brought to us by tier one players or primes saying, ‘this is a great company, we’d like them to have more of this, and can you connect them through here?’,” he said.
The collaboration opens up new opportunities, including venture capital sources. Quantum TX also partners with regional accelerators, like Robotics Australia Group, to deploy mentors as needed.
Mr Rossdeutscher envisions an ambitious journey for startups: turn small teams of just five people into companies with 50 and eventually 200 employees.
“Organisations like METS Ignited play a crucial role when a company is transitioning from a team of 20 or 30 individuals to a larger operation with a hundred employees.”
Funding for METS Ignited dried up under the new federal government, but he acknowledges its impact in fostering collaboration and driving growth within the mining sector.
He believes similar industry growth centres need nurturing, whether they are sector-specific or broader in scope. These centres would be vital in creating connections and collaborations between SMEs, large enterprises, and research institutions.
They would help SMEs manage scaling challenges and fill gaps in their growth journey, particularly regarding space, defence and government contracts.
Mr Rossdeutscher advises SMEs to pursue smaller-scale trials of their technology in less challenging environments and then gradually work with defence to introduce the technology as it proves its value.
“Defence is excellent as a long-term customer,” he said. “It’s reliable, it pays well. It’s a good customer. You have to build your way there. You can’t expect to walk straight in the door.”
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