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Founder insights: 5 things to know before founding a spacetech startup

Picture credits: Skyrora

Founding a startup is not without its challenges – in fact, listing all of the hurdles an entrepreneur can face could be an entirely new article. Or even a book! There are, however, the universal challenges of having a good enough idea, raising capital, and finding the right team. One thing that is often overlooked is the location. Where a startup is based could make or break the company. While technology and the internet have helped with remote working or reaching customers on the other side of the world, it still wouldn’t make the most sense to start a ski company in Hawaii.

Born and raised in Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine, I successfully pursued a career in IT after studying computer science. I moved to the UK and worked in software engineering before becoming CTO in an IT services business. Following this, I became MD of an AIM-listed e-commerce business based in Scotland with over 600 employees worldwide. I eventually sold my stake in the company and moved to Silicon Valley to run another IT business. 

When I moved back to Europe 16 years ago, there was only one place I wanted to start my next company: Scotland. Having lived in the UK previously and visited Scotland many years before and seeing the open space and clear water – a stark contrast to my hometown, where rivers ran yellow – a country that prioritised the environment when it came to building infrastructure and factories was important. As a spacetech startup is quite literally rocket science, it’s important to get things right, and here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way. 

Beware of the newts

This might sound like a joke but it was a lesson in the need to be prepared for anything. While Scotland is home to beautiful scenery and wildlife, one life form I wasn’t very aware of was the newts and one very nearly stopped a rocket test. 

In 2022, Skyrora opened its rocket testing site in Midlothian, but prior to the doors opening in May, the entire project was almost halted by a 6-inch amphibian. Just south of Edinburgh at the potential test site – after we had invested in the location and planned everything – we found a newt and had to call the planners to remove it. If it was a Great Crested Newt, we couldn’t have gone ahead with the test site as it’s a protected species. As we sat around waiting with bated breath for the newt to be identified, I wondered if we’d have to find an entirely new site. Luckily for us, it was a common newt and we paid for it to be relocated.

While the newt didn’t stop our plans, it’s always essential to be conscious of the local ecosystem and conduct any engine test activity in a responsible manner. Scotland is a beautiful place and I’m glad that we go to such great lengths to protect it.

Sustainability and the environment

The newts are part of Scotland’s wider environmental pull. As the world grapples with climate change and targets to reach net zero, we cannot underestimate the impact a startup can have on its wider environment. Space is historically not an environmentally friendly industry. From energy consumption and fuel emissions to failed tests and space debris, spacetech can be harmful to the planet (and beyond) when not done correctly. 

Understanding the importance of localising supply chains and managing the consumption of natural resources are key to creating a more sustainable spacetech startup. There are even companies that exist solely to clear up space junk or test products before they reach space. Thanks to the heavy rainfall in Scotland, at Skyrora we have harnessed the rain from the Scottish Lowlands as part of the cooling systems for the test stand. We’re also establishing more sustainable rocket manufacturing and launch capabilities. Through our in-house Skyprint 2 – the largest hybrid 3D printer of its kind in Europe – and onsite testing and manufacturing facilities, we’re optimising speed and efficiency and producing fewer fuel emissions.This is just one example of how we’re utilising the Scottish environment in a renewable and low-impact way.


Part of our overall aim is to help Scotland become Europe’s Cape Canaveral, as such, we’ve done our best to develop localised capabilities where possible. From building Europe’s largest hybrid 3D printer to produce engine components, to creating more jobs and expertise for the local economy and decreasing subsequent fuel emissions. 

Funding is a crucial part of maintaining a startup and space is not cheap. Being able to access the necessary capital so that your startup is no longer just an idea, but something tangible is no easy feat. Whether this stems from bootstrapping, angel investors, venture capital, accelerators or grants, it’s mission-critical to secure capital and establish a lengthy runway. Innovation requires investment and while London is often seen as the most attractive place for UK startups, it’s worth looking at other tech hubs – like Cambridge, Coventry or Bristol, for example – so that you can unlock regional investment opportunities. Investment in the spacetech sector means working with governments and regulators, which requires patience. It’s likely that a spacetech startup will be doing something new, and will be establishing the rules for future companies, so not only will there be an incredible amount of testing that needs to be done (both hardware and software), but it will also involve working hand-in-hand with corporates, government organisations and regulators. It’s a complicated web of stakeholders that can be a challenge for anyone to navigate 

Local university talent

Where a startup is based will affect its talent pool. Scotland is home to some of the best universities in the world. This means that there is a large pool of talented individuals looking for jobs after they graduate. Harnessing the skills of highly motivated, fresh graduates and creating an interesting and rewarding company where they want to work is key to fostering a startup’s longevity. Over 93,000 people graduated from a Scottish university last year and it’s important for startups to tap into this strong flow of talent. While we take part in recruitment fairs and other activities to meet talent from Scottish universities and colleges it’s important to remember that newcomers joining as interns, graduates or in more senior roles are all possible by actively engaging with local institutions. For a number of years now, we’ve been working alongside Glasgow University Rocketry Society, UKSEDS (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) and a number of other organisations across the tech sector for eager graduates.

Pole position for space

At present, Glasgow manufactures more satellites than anywhere else in Europe and Edinburgh is in pole position as the continent’s space data capital. Not only is Scotland home to all three of the UK’s proposed vertical launch spaceports, but also half of the horizontal launch sites. As a result, Scotland is primed to benefit from the significant strides the UK has made in regard to space access and launch capabilities. 

We’re already seeing the space race in the UK from the Shetland Isles – where Britain’s first vertical launch is due to take place later this year. To further aid UK launch efforts, the Chancellor pledged £10 million to support orbital launches from the SaxaVord spaceport. So, if you’re founding a spacetech startup in the UK, Scotland simply makes sense.

What I’ve learnt

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I think founders are on a continuous journey of learning. But I do know that seven years ago I made the right decision in choosing Scotland as the home of Skyrora. Founders must juggle both personal and professional decisions when running a business, but these are some important findings I’ve discovered in the spacetech industry.

Volodymyr Levykin is the CEO and Founder of Skyrora, a pioneering space technology company. With a passion for innovation and exploration, he leads Skyrora in its mission to revolutionise space access and advance humanity’s presence beyond Earth’s bounds.

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