Iceye Oy: A fast satellite imagery service

10.10.2016 14.07 | Published in English on 24.10.2016 at 12.52
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Iceye Oy: A fast satellite imagery service
Iceye provides satellite services for the needs of arctic navigation and shipping. Photo: Iceye

An idea born among engineering students can grow into an international growth business. Satellite technology and fast remote sensing data provided by Iceye Oy, a startup based in Espoo, Finland, is useful in maritime shipping and navigation, monitoring natural and environmental disasters and forest mapping. Iceye is set to launch its own satellite in 2017.

One might think that gaining foothold in the space technology market would require intensive and long-running R&D efforts. Born as a spin-off of a course project at Aalto University School of Engineering, Iceye concretely shows that there is always room for agile and innovative startups.

Operating in Otaniemi, home of the School of Engineering, Iceye was lucky because the timing was right. Today vast numbers of government-owned radar satellites roam the skies, and the data they collect is also sold to private bodies. The required data is, however, very expensive and its delivery usually takes several days – far too long a delay in many sectors that require such data, e.g. marine traffic operating under harsh conditions.

– We got this service idea in 2012 during a ventures programme at Aalto University, when we discovered that a microsatellite service like this can be developed with relatively low-priced components and at reasonable cost. While we don’t pretend to provide top-notch image quality, we are able to bring the image to the customer within just a few hours – globally. Customers are actually prepared to pay for such a fast service, notes Pekka Laurila, CFO and one of the founders of this startup.

Funding through many channels

Founded in early 2015 and currently with a staff of 20, Iceye has awakened the interest of many sponsors. In autumn 2015, the company received EUR 2.5 million in product development funding under Horizon 2020, the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation of the European Union. At the growth company event Slush, organized in Helsinki every year, Iceye announced that it had raised a similar amount from capital investors, including True Ventures and Founder.org from the U.S. and Lifeline Ventures from Finland.

Iceye has also been supported among others by Tekes with an EUR 1.7 million loan for product development under the Arctic Seas programme. Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, is part of the Team Finland network.

– I have to admit that this really feels like an engineering student’s dream come true. Only problem is that I’m right now so busy that my engineering studies are at a standstill, Laurila admits with a laugh.

Launching a satellite next year

The business idea of Iceye is – as its name suggests – to provide satellite services for the needs of arctic navigation and shipping. Remote sensing data that is available 24/7, regardless of weather conditions, has many other uses, too.

– Data gathered by satellites can be used, for example, to supervise fishing activity and monitor oil spills, the progress of natural disasters and damage from storms and flooding, and to map forest resources. In fact, we are still in the early stages of our path, increasingly receiving new ideas directly from our clients, Laurila says.

Iceye-manufactured technology has so far been tested in airplanes and icebreakers. The company made its way to the global markets right from the start, but it has also discovered major clients in the neighbourhood, especially in Norway, where maritime shipping and the oil industry play a big role.

– We intend to launch our first own microsatellite into space in 2017. Our goal for the early 2020’s is to have as many as 30–50 satellites in operation, with clients on all continents, says Laurila, revealing the company’s vision.

Iceye Oy
A startup based in Otaniemi, Espoo, employing about 20 people. Iceye is developing a microsatellites-based commercial service that gathers radar imagery of the surface of the oceans and the Earth almost in real time, day and night, regardless of weather conditions. Iceye’s technology and services can be used in such fields as maritime navigation and shipping, supervision of fishing activity, monitoring damage from storms and floods and mapping forest resources. The company is set to launch its first radar satellite into space in 2017.

Team Finland’s role
The Team Finland network has granted Iceye a loan for product development under the Tekes-run Arctic Seas programme. The company has also received funding from the “New knowledge and business from research ideas” programme of Tekes and the Horizon 2020 framework programme of the EU. Finnvera, in turn, has granted guarantees for credits taken out by Iceye to carry out client-paid pilot projects. Iceye has also relied on the expert services provided by the network of Finnish diplomatic missions abroad.

Progress on the path to international markets
Established in 2015, Iceye directly targets global export markets with backing from such capital investors as True Ventures and Founder.Org from the U.S. The service provided by Iceye has already attracted interest in Scandinavia, notably in Norway. Also in the U.S., the company’s first customer pilot studies have been conducted together with local industries.