AP-Swiss seeking deal flow with African space startups

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AP-Swiss, a joint undertaking of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Swiss Space Office that helps companies building applications for space to obtain funding and identify partners, is looking for deal flow with African startups in the sector.

AP-Swiss has until now been focused on Swiss companies, but is now looking for African space businesses to either relocate to Switzerland in return for funding and support or partner with Swiss companies.

Managing director Jose Achache has been visiting Africa through the organisation’s partnership with Seedstars World in a bid to identify companies that could be offered funding in order to commercialise their operations.

“In this development of new activity in Switzerland investment money is fairly available. It is not difficult to find money but what is difficult is to source new deals,” he told Disrupt Africa.

“Our plan is to go global, but for now we are focused on Africa and the Middle East.”

Though AP-Swiss is considering launching an incubator, it currently supports companies on a project-by-project basis.

“We assume companies have all the attributes for working, they just need funding,” Achache said.

“We are looking for good companies and want to help provide subsidies.”

He said though the programme was designed to help European companies, it is now trying to identify opportunities abroad to drive companies towards Switzerland for a period and help them as a Swiss company.

“A lot of people we have been talking to say this is a valuable proposition because the African ecosystem is missing a number of elements,” Achache said. “We can invite them to come to Switzerland and help them there. Or we can create partnerships between Swiss companies and those we identify abroad.”

He said he saw a lot of potential in African startups and more established companies developing applications for space.

“Space is not a new thing in Africa, we have worked with South African companies before. Clearly what is missing here from what I’ve seen is that additional step from research and development to a commercial business. And that is why we see great potential and a need for help and support,” he said.

Acache said AP-Swiss could offer various amounts of funding to companies depending on what stage they were at, but would only fund 50 per cent of an individual project.

“There are a lot of mechanisms to fund 100 per cent of the development, but of those that have been 100 per cent funded, a lot do interesting things but never commercial,” he said. “Only doing 50 per cent requires companies to put in the additional 50 per cent. No company will do that if they are not deeply convinced there is a business ahead.”

He said AP-Swiss was looking for opportunities across the whole of the continent, not just in South Africa.

“Certainly it is one of our targets in Africa because they are already fairly advanced. So it wouldn’t take much to get them from where they are to commercial operations. It is the same with Kenya, there is the same level of culture and familiarity. Nairobi is going to be one of my targets.”

Though Acache said AP-Swiss was the first such organisation to attempt to source deals outside of Europe, he said the organisation would be very selective about the companies it offered support to. He said if he could do up to ten deals in one year he would be delighted.

“There’s a lot of traps in this business of building applications for space. Many projects are nice and helpful but will never fly as commercial. There is a lot of conditions to get a good deal.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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