The Ticket to Launch lunch event, hosted by Denver South’s Project Nexus and RIoT, gave plenty of food for thought about the future of aerospace and how private-sector small businesses and entrepreneurs can contribute to it. The focus was Colorado’s aerospace ecosystem and what the speakers expect from the industry’s future. Read on for a recap, and be sure not to miss out on our September event.

Tom Snyder, executive director at RIoT, kicked off the event by explaining the organization’s key activities and how they are creating Internet of Things (IoT) opportunities locally, nationally, and globally.

The first speaker was Mark Sirangelo, Entrepreneur Scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado and former Executive Vice President of the Sierra Nevada Corporation and head of Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems. As a former Chief Innovation Officer for Colorado, he aims to build a community for aerospace in Colorado. In his view, that community aspect is critical as the space industry can only succeed through collaboration. For him, community means bringing a variety of people and skill sets to the industry. Looking to the future, he foresees an era of innovation we can’t yet imagine. Although many companies focus on the hardware of the space industry, he believes the future lies in software and space applications.

Shelli Brunswick, COO of Space Foundation, took up the thread discussing the need for diversity in aerospace. Space Foundation is a nonprofit advocacy organization offering a gateway to education, information, and collaboration for space exploration and space-inspired industries that define the global space ecosystem. Shelli pointed out that 80% of the space economy is now commercial rather than government, and with this new industry makeup, innovation and new businesses are needed. She believes that there is a place for everyone in aerospace and that the industry needs people with a variety of skill sets and from different backgrounds – not just STEM graduates. Innovation is sorely needed in the industry as industry leaders retire and workforces need new skills. Her call to action was for all businesses and entrepreneurs to consider how they could bring their ideas to grow innovation in aerospace.

One of those innovative entrepreneurs was the next speaker, Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Outpost. Lunar Outpost is an advanced technology company focusing on developing technologies that have both Earth and space applications, such as vehicles transporting payloads on the moon or making oxygen on Mars. He talked about the importance of the Colorado aerospace ecosystem in the evolution of his business and how he has been able to work with partners to grow fast and set a benchmark in their industry. Now, he believes that Colorado needs to take a step further and create a planetary research facility to cement the state’s position as a leader in new space. Check out the exciting news this week from Lunar Outpost!

Completing the day’s speakers, German Nunez from NDP talked about the motivations behind starting an engineering firm working in network engineering, communication systems, cybersecurity, and data dissemination and sharing. He was frustrated by how data was processed elsewhere and wanted to offer this service securely and at scale. Given how fast technology evolves, he considers it possible to predict what will happen but not when. He expects the further growing importance of analytics and artificial intelligence, even seeing a time when code will write code. In the immediate future, he anticipates an overall greater appetite for risk-taking in aerospace as the lines between government and commercial work blur further, and the government becomes more open to change. He sees a bright future for small businesses that have an opportunity that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Eric Byington, Director of Entrepreneurship, Denver South, wrapped up the meeting by introducing Project Nexus and its activities in curating partners and services to support start-ups in the Denver South region.

Now is the time to think about how you can make a difference in aerospace, even if you don’t have STEM skills. If you would like to attend the next RIoT and Project Nexus event, the RIoT LXII: Colorado Tech Showcase will be on September 16th, 5p-7pm. You can sign up through Meetup.