People have looked to the skies for inspiration from time immemorial – and in a start-up nation twist on that notion, the heads of SpaceIL, an Israeli group that is actively planning a “blue and white” moonshot, delivered a shot of inspiration to a group of Jerusalem entrepreneurs about the challenges they face and how they overcome them.
Kfir Damari, one of the founders of SpaceIL, spoke to a group of entrepreneurs about the project at an event sponsored by the Jerusalem Startup Hub, a new space in the city for entrepreneurs to set up shop, network, and get access to computer services, meeting spaces, mentors, and access to venture capital and angel investors. The Hub, modeled after similar facilities in places like Silicon Valley, New York, and even Tel Aviv, is open to all tech entrepreneurs, and charges relatively reasonable rates for its space and services.
The Hub provides the “ingredients” entrepreneurs need to succeed — though the most important ingredient, the drive to succeed, excel, and innovate, is something only they themselves can provide. But the Jerusalem Startup Hub is determined to help — by running innovative programs, talks, and events, like the one this week, featuring the SpaceIL team.
SpaceIL actually exists because of Google — specifically, the Google Lunar X Contest, which promises to award $30 million to a team that can land an unmanned, robotic craft on the moon and carry out several missions such as taking high-definition video and beaming it back to earth, and exploring the surface of the moon by moving or sending out a vehicle that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.
SpaceIL’s mission, as the organization describes it, is to successfully build, launch into space, and land on the moon a space capsule, making Israel the fourth country in the world to achieve this. It’s not pie in the sky, either. Several months ago, Israeli telecom giant Bezeq signed on as an SpaceIL’s first major corporate sponsor.
Over 250 volunteers are working on SpaceIL, developing systems to propel a rocket into orbit, build a system which will be able to move the spacecraft 500 meters, and design video cameras that can stand up to the moon’s harsh climate, in order to be able to transmit high-definition video back to earth. The entire drama will be transmitted back to earth via Bezeq optical fiber technology, Damari said, with Bezeq’s fiber optic cable, along with an Israeli flag, remaining on the moon for the benefit of future space travelers.
Putting a craft into space is a formidable technical challenge, but it’s an even greater financial challenge; some $30 million is going to be needed to get the launch going by the target date of mid-2015. So far, $20 million has been raised, from corporate donors, as well as from many private donors. If Israel wins — as Damari expects — the organization does not plan on keeping the Google prize money, but will channel the prize money back into science education, and conduct more programs to expose more kids to the importance of space travel and research.
It’s an inspiring story, said Levy Raiz, one of the three co-founders of the Jerusalem Startup Hub, and he hopes the inspiration rubs off on the entrepreneurs who attended the event. “We want them to realize that if they believe in their vision, like the SpaceIL people do, nothing can stand in their way,” he said. “It’s a great example for entrepreneurs to follow.”