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Pan-African space challenge drives opportunities for space-tech entrepreneurs

Pan-African space challenge drives opportunities for space-tech entrepreneurs

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The Africa Earth Observation Challenge (AEO) is poised to propel innovation in the continent’s space sector via a pan-African open innovation start-up challenge, focusing on earth observation data solutions.

The AEO Challenge, to be officially opened on August 8 2022, is an annual open innovation initiative which has been sourcing novel applications of space-based technologies since 2016. 

Submissions are welcomed from African start-ups and entrepreneurs who can demonstrate feasible innovations using earth observation data. Shortlisted applicants are then invited to take part in a week-long business training programme. 

Following this, the applicants are required to present their business plans at a live pitching event to a multidisciplinary panel of specialist judges. One of the highly anticipated prizes for the overall winners is an intensive incubation and mentorship programme aimed at ramping up business and investor readiness for African space-tech entrepreneurs.

Imraan Saloojee, the RIIS executive overseeing the AEO Challenge, said that the challenge is attracting government interest, which is a positive indication of both the AEO Challenge’s market traction and the burgeoning activity that is emerging in Africa’s space sector. 

“An agreement with the Kenya Space Agency was entered into during the Kenya Space Expo and Conference 2022, which is immensely exciting for the challenge and we are in talks with other African governmental agencies and directorates who have indicated an interest in supporting this initiative,” said Saloojee.

As well as government interest in space-based technologies, there is a growing uptake in Africa’s private sector. The Africa Space Industry Annual Report for 2021 indicates that there are a total of 282 private-sector companies operating within the industry value chain, consisting of both upstream and downstream companies. The environment is ready for new entrants to take advantage in the market where opportunities are yet to be fully realised.  

“African start-ups and entrepreneurs are using earth observation data to meet critical issues related to climate change, food security, social challenges and numerous others. But our continent is not generally viewed on the world stage as being an innovative contributor to the global space sector. Working together with RIIS and other partners, we hope that the AEO Challenge can help change this prevailing discourse,” said Col. Hillary Kipkosgey, Director General, Kenya Space Agency.

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