Iceye: Aalto Course Leads into Space

"We strive to be the world's number one service in the industry", says Pekka Laurila, the co-founder of the space technology startup Iceye.

Ville Blåfield, 18.04.2017

When Finnish financial publication Kauppalehti listed Finnish companies with the ”biggest Silicon Valley potential” at Slush in 2015, Iceye was one of them. For this space technology startup, it all began at an Aalto University course back in 2012. Iceye’s co-founder Pekka Laurila recounts how Aalto has played a crucial role not only in the company being established, but to this day.  

“Initially, the founding team members met through a small satellite project of Aalto. We then drew up the first concepts for a company on a joint course offered by Aalto School of Business and University of Technology, which involved professors from Stanford lecturing about technology entrepreneurship. That added a commercial spin to our venture.”

According to Laurila, Aalto was very much part of the next phase as well: “Aalto Center for Entrepreneurship supported our small team, and when we realized our venture actually made sense, Aalto supported us through funding and as an institution, as we began to develop a prototype with funding from the New Knowledge and Business from Research Ideas program run by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.”

The company was launched in 2015, and now employs over 30 people.

Iceye develops a service based on microsatellites, which provides almost real-time information from space.

In its Espoo facilities, the company has developed a radar that is capable of imaging also in darkness and through cloud cover – unlike traditional cameras. Practical applications include monitoring sea ice or, say, monitoring ships to prevent illegal fishing.

We can for instance monitor flooding in real time to allow immediate relief, rather than when it’s too late.”

“Or we can for instance monitor flooding in real time to allow immediate relief, rather than when it’s too late,” explains Laurila,

At the moment, Iceye is carrying out pilot project for customers. The first satellites are being constructed, and the product is being tested on small airplanes.

“Aalto is a part owner and key partner. We are located in Otaniemi partly so we can stay in close contact with the Department of Radio Science and Engineering,” says Laurila.

What are Iceye’s goals?   

“The company aims to create a global satellite imaging service whatever the conditions or time of day.  We strive to be the world’s number one service in the industry. A company of this type doesn’t even have a local market – it’s all global, with a few competitors in Japan, some in the Silicon Valley, some perhaps in Finland. We are all on an equal footing, which means you have to be the biggest and the best to rule the market.”

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