Strong ambition as business schools launch space programs

Strong ambition as business schools launch space programs

Space has not traditionally been a destination for enjoying delicious cuisine. Without gravity to help clear their sinuses, astronauts are left with a dulled sense of taste.

But at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, associate professor of marketing Carlos Velasco and his colleagues are working to develop more appetizing meals for space travelers. “Space captured my imagination very early in life and we saw an opportunity to address some of the challenges that space travelers can face,” says Velasco, a specialist in “multi-sensory marketing”. “We want to position food – which is a multi-sensory experience in itself – beyond nutrition.”

Working with academics from the University of Sussex in the UK and Carnegie Mellon University in the US, his BI Norwegian team developed three concepts for use in zero gravity. These include a mixing pod where solid spices are dissolved into the food for flavor and texture; a 3D printer that astronauts can use to make foods that enhance the emotional experience of eating; and small bites with distinct flavors from different cultures or life moments that combine with virtual and augmented reality.

It may seem like a lot of effort for the few lucky enough to travel to space. “But research and development in the space industry often results in innovations that also provide solutions to humanity’s big and small challenges,” says Velasco, citing inventions such as freeze-dried food, home insulation and water purification systems.

Carlos Velasco performing a test with a perfume kit and VR glasses

Carlos Velasco tests food flavors at BI Norwegian Business School © Ilja C Hendel

Velasco’s menu is still in the design stage, but other European business schools are turning space-age ideas into reality.

At the University of Exeter’s business school in south-west England, Professor Nikita Chiu is launching an undergraduate module on “Space Economics” early next year. “. Open to students from different disciplines and hosted on the university’s Penryn campus, the module will offer a chance to examine past achievements – and missteps – in space. It aims to help students envision a more responsible and sustainable space future, says Chiu, senior lecturer in innovation policy at Exeter and an Ad Astra Distinguished Fellow in Robotic and Outer Space Governance at the University’s Space Engineering Research Center from Southern California.

“There is no other sector more intriguing than space,” says Chiu. “When we look at the stars, we are actually looking into the past, and yet the space sector is all about building for the future.”

The course, she says, will draw on business studies, history of science and technology, engineering and global governance to understand how politics, technology and business intersect to enable space economy.

“For those who are determined to pursue a career in the space sector, I hope they can apply what they have learned with us to inspire positive change, bring new ideas to an established industry and make it more diverse, more responsible and more sustainable,” says Chiu, who is also a mentor for Space4Women, a network organized by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

Meanwhile, the first six students recently graduated from Europe’s premier Space for Business programme, an executive education course aimed at space professionals, entrepreneurs and companies looking to grow their businesses. The course is a partnership between the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at Erasmus University, the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and the European Space Agency.

Space is the new economic frontier, explains program director René Olie, also associate professor of strategic management at RSM. Investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that the $350 billion global space industry could grow to more than $1 billion by 2040. Yet while many space companies are starting out with big ambitions and ideas , they often lack the knowledge and management skills to develop their business.

“Many in this industry have an engineering background with limited business training,” says Olie. “Another reason to start the program was the rapid changes happening in the industry, which makes it attractive for non-space entrepreneurs and companies to enter the industry, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.”

The three schools began discussing the idea in 2019. On the curriculum, St. Gallen focuses on space environment and space business models, Nova specializes in entrepreneurship and finance, while RSM leads the process scaling, innovation and leadership. The next program will run in early 2024, with plans to expand the cohort to around 15-20 participants.

Space entrepreneurs are also being targeted by HEC Paris, which earlier this year launched a seed funding program within its Creative Destruction Lab incubator. Launched in partnership with Toronto’s Rotman School and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, the nine-month program accommodates 40 start-ups as it seeks to give scientific space research an entrepreneurial perspective.

But Franz Viehböck is one of the few people who can attest to the rare perspective that space travel brings to life, business and education. Austria’s first, and so far only, astronaut was a lecturer at the Pioneering Short Programs at the Vienna-based WU Executive Academy. He’s worked with NASA and Boeing, and is now chief executive of the steel maker Berndorf Group, whose employees he regularly takes executive training at WU. “The view of Earth from space was overwhelming,” he says. “You no longer see artificial geographical boundaries, but the big picture.

“There is a spirit of optimism in the aerospace industry, which means that with courage and commitment, things can be changed,” he adds. “The innovations are very well received and appreciated, unlike many other sectors. It’s about having the courage to be enterprising and overcome setbacks – it doesn’t necessarily mean having to fly into space yourself.

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