In 2012, Coen Janssen landed an internship at the newly-formed NATO Communications and Information Agency.
Fast-forward five years, the Dutch national is now the Managing Director of a start-up company he co-founded with fellow whiz kid Maarten Engelen and satellite communications professional Ernst Peter Hovinga. And he's not even 30 years old yet. Here's what Coen had to say about his experience working for the NCI Agency and how it shaped his career choices.
Valuable, practical experience
As an aerospace engineering and entrepreneurship student, I was invited to speak at the 2012 NATO Network Enabled Capability Conference on nanosatellites and the future of military operations.
There, I had the opportunity to meet many senior executives in the technology and defense Industry including Mr David Burton, former Chief Technology Officer of the NCI Agency, and the General Manager, Mr Koen Gijsbers, who happily accepted my application for an internship which was a mandatory part of my Master's programme.
During my internship, I had the privilege to look into innovation management and the organizational changes that were taking place at the time at the Agency. The amount of responsibility that was given to me from the start, and the help I received from colleagues and mentors such as Dr Paul Howland - the Agency's Chief of Command and Control Services - made a great impact on my professional career.
Although I've always made career choices based on my interests rather than thinking about building the perfect CV, NATO is a great name to be able to mention during interviews and business conversations. But the real impact came from the experience I obtained and the people I encountered during my time at the Agency.
I went on to work at XCOR, a commercial space company, Deutsche Bank, and after a quick stint at a strategic consultancy firm, I was approached by a venture capital advisory firm to consider investing in the new commercial aerospace market. Together with several professional investors, we founded a small investment firm and did several investments in the new space industry.
Eventually, we thought it was time to create our own company. And we saw a niche market in the area of satellite communications, without too much global competition so we decided to work out the initial business plan and build a team around it. Over a year later, we launched Magnitude Space. We now have over ten staff members and we have raised our first funds.
Innovating to open new markets
Magnitude Space is a start-up in the aerospace market. It is building a nano-satellite platform to provide low-cost global Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity for sensors. This IoT connectivity allows us to provide global insights at an affordable cost. We do this by gathering sensor data in rural areas and delivering it via our web portal to our customers. These sensors could eventually collect information on sea currents, pipelines, animals, containers, allowing users to track data at a low cost. They could also gather simple observational data such as velocity, temperature, humidity, the presence of carbon dioxide, or even security data. There is a multitude of fixed applications which are currently not served by either terrestrial nor satellite infrastructure such as flood and fire warning systems, perimeter security, global net monitoring in remote areas… That's what we want to change.
And in that respect, I think the vision of the Agency and Magnitude Space are pretty much aligned: we want to be seen as a trusted enabler of information and we also want to earn customers' confidence through agility, innovation and affordable solutions. Innovation management and organizational changes are key for a start-up, although many other challenges arise when building up an organization instead of changing it. We also always have to be at the cutting edge of technology. We're providing global insights at an unprecedented cost level, enabling tons of new markets and applications. We can only do this with newly-developed technology and by building our own space infrastructure.
I think it's really interesting to see that the Agency's General Manager Mr Gijsbers has made innovation a priority within the organization, and that there is a renewed focus on partnerships with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Governmental and inter-governmental organizations usually have long 'sale cycles' and therefore are -somewhat challenging as first customers for SMEs. The decision-making processes in place are bureaucratic and slow, whereas start-ups and SMEs are usually more agile, quick to decide and adapt to new situations and innovations. But it's very positive to see that there is talk about streamlining these processes to make this sort of partnerships more likely.