Satellite tech startup aims to improve climate impacts
Esper Satellite Imagery (ESI) is using satellite technology to deliver climate-friendly outcomes in mining and agribusiness — two of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. The brainchild of 22-year-old Shoaib Iqbal — a final year Bachelor of Space Science student — the Melbourne-based startup has signed $150m in pre-orders for satellite data and imagery and is on track to raise US$4m in seed funding.
At just 19 years old, Iqbal bootstrapped the business with $500,000 raised through early believers and angel investors. He and co-founder Przemyslaw Lorenczak embarked on the mission to use technology for climate applications to help companies cut costs and reduce their impact on the environment. They did this by building and launching satellite cameras to take pictures of Earth to provide advanced imagery and data.
He combined his formal space studies and own appetite for self-learning with an innovation and entrepreneurship program by edtech company HEX. It armed him with real-life skills on innovation and founding a startup, including going from ideation to prototype, pitching to investors, raising capital and networking with businesses.
In the three years since the company was founded, ESI has grown to a team of eight. HEX CEO and founder Jeanette Cheah has also joined the company as an advisor and been instrumental in providing Shoaib with introductions to investors and other business experts and providing guidance as the startup continues to grow.
While the technology has been around for some years, ESI is among the first in the world to use hyperspectral satellite imagery at a commercial level in space. Also known as spectral satellite imagery, this sees satellite images overlaid with hundreds of layers of spectral information to capture wavelengths of light, which is invisible to the human eye and normal cameras.
The technology helps companies in various ways — from understanding what lies beneath the Earth’s surface to help agribusinesses, to looking at trade routes for potential oil spills for maritime use cases, to working with oil and gas companies to track and lower emissions, and looking at methane leakages in natural gas plants and gas pipelines.
Iqbal says the HEX program was instrumental in helping him develop Esper and taught him all about the startup ecosystem.
“The past three years have been a whirlwind — building a startup is super turbulent and it’s not easy. However, we’ve built a strong network of advisers along the way, from Jeanette to the HEX alumni and business leaders we’ve met through the program, who are all super supportive.
“As a young startup founder without much life experience, the HEX program connected us to other founders who are all on different stages in their journey and also helped us grow our network. We even hired a data engineer who we met through HEX. We’ve been able to live and learn vicariously through those who have done it before, and have people to look up to through our HEX network,” he said.
Over the next year, ESI will launch two more satellites, with the total goal of 18 by 2025. The current seed funding, set to close mid-year, will help the startup achieve this target and further expand.
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