CEMS students use space technology to feed new business ideas

For the past 10 years, international management students at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) have been using space technology as a platform for fantastic new business ideas during an annual week-long seminar, and the seminars continue to produce successes. The most recent, in August 2014, continued to explore the boundaries between space technology and business.

The 58 CEMS students – from RSM as well as 28 exchange students from CEMS partner schools worldwide – took part in two simultaneous projects, Entrepreneurial Challenge: Turning Technology into Business at the European Space Agency (ESA-ESTEC) campus and New Venture Creation: Consulting the Directors of a Start-Up Company at the ESA Business Incubation Center (ESA-BIC) in Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

During the seminar, students are challenged to apply business ideas to space technologies and the residential seminar has earned glowing accolades from participants. RSM and the ESA work together to provide this seminar for students of RSM’s MSc International Management /CEMS programme (IM/CEMS); they are joined by students from international partner schools.

Three years ago a second, parallel block seminar was established as a result of the success of the first. New Venture Creation: Consulting the Directors of a Start-up Company (NVC) allows students to use space technology from a slightly different approach. They are paired with entrepreneurs and start-up businesses from the space technology sector, and act as business consultants in ESA’s Business Incubation Center.

Students on both projects worked throughout the week at ESA among space flight equipment exhibits and in the solar-panelled ESA-BIC office complex, which is one of the most sustainably built office buildings in the province of Zuid-Holland. They also worked late into the night back at their hostel to brainstorm ideas and perfect their business cases. They attended workshops, presentations and lectures from instructors and guest lecturers, and their final presentations were made in front of a jury.

Niels Eldering, Technology Transfer Officer at ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office – and an RSM alumnus said: “The students find themselves in a real ‘pressure cooker’ during the block seminar. An experience that it’s not so different from real entrepreneurial challenges out there in the market.”

Celebrating 10 years

At the conclusion of the latest seminar week, participants celebrated the last ten years of collaboration between RSM and ESA with the launch of a booklet to commemorate the anniversary. The book, Turning Technology into Business describes the many business cases that have been produced during 10 years of collaboration between RSM and ESA. As an important element to the celebration, RSM’s Dean, Professor Steef van de Velde met with Franco Ongaro, Director of ESA-ESTEC to solidify the current co-operation on the block seminar and to explore further opportunities for collaboration.

A wide variety of subjects addressed by CEMS students at ESA included problem solving, the International Space Station (ISS), virtual reality, the creative process and ideation, a question and answer session with the inventors from aerospace company Dutch Space, intellectual property rights, writing business plans, entrepreneurship, presenting consultancy assignments, the perspective of investors, and selling a business case.

Space - the next frontier for business?

Students found the potential of advanced space technologies was far ahead of any used on Earth. “It was an amazing experience to support bringing this advanced technology from space down to Earth, with the goal of improving people’s everyday quality of life and fostering new businesses here in Europe,” concluded one student.

Taking part in the project at ESA was Nicolò Z. Nielsen, a master student at Copenhagen Business School. “In our project, we were challenged to use air quality data which is currently not profitable, and create a business case out of it,” he said.

The competing groups presented their business cases to a joint ESA-RSM jury, “Knowing that we can master space technology and build a business preposition made us confident that we can now address technology in our future careers. We also learned the importance of having a variety of skills and knowledge in the team,” said Nielsen.

The students faced obstacles because of their non-technical backgrounds. “It was hard for us to see the business potential. Using experts’ knowledge, professional advice, and research in the existing field helped us through the development of the business case, and made our trial and error process much more efficient,” they commented. However, they remained upbeat and enthusiastic despite the seriousness with which they approached their task, and throughout the ‘all-nighter’ it took in order to be ready for the final presentations.

Niels Eldering concludes: “The seminar shows that it often takes a business perspective to create an innovative spin-off from space technologies to new products and services on the market, so we are very enthusiastic to work with RSM’s students.”

Excellent Feedback

One entrepreneur working with the CEMS students was particularly impressed. Antonio Russu, managing director of DomusROJA, a company developing innovations in communications equipment, worked with an international team of CEMS students, and said he was very satisfied with the students’ work for a number of reasons; the situation was complex, he said, the students worked with him remotely (from another location) and everyone involved used a language that was not their mother tongue. Despite the students’ unfamiliarity with the company’s business environment, they succeeded in “delivering very good work”, said Antonio. “I was not interested in seeing a ‘repackaging’ of my own ideas, but they gave me fresh views and interesting ideas about the product and its market that challenged my findings, and presented clear opportunities.”

The best way to generate value?

The company has a long term ambition work across various business sectors. Its most recent product, TC101, is an aftermarket module for the automotive industry which provides an emergency call to local authorities in the event of an accident – a requirement for all new cars from 2015. It can be installed on the car’s windscreen, and addresses a forthcoming regulation at the same time as creating a unique range of services. In its current phase, TC101 makes use of mobile phone technology, and will evolve to use the same satellite technology as the Galileo Satellite Program.

CEMS students examined the financial structure of the product and the best way to generate value for the company. Should the product be sold via subscription or a fixed fee, or a combination of both? They researched comparable and competitor products and conducted a strategic analysis to develop a model to deliver value for DomusROJA. They addressed cash flow shortages, organisational risks, software failure and changes to laws and regulations as well as changes in demand for the product.

Showing passion

“During the presentation they argued, defended and supported their positions, proved their concepts and showed me their passion for something that didn’t belong to their daily lives until a couple of weeks ago,” said Antonio Russu. Despite his initial doubts about the students being able to work with his remotely, at the project’s conclusion he felt honoured to have had them spending time on his entrepreneurial vision, and to have received such passionate work from them. “While the path ahead of them is still long, the use of their experience has proven to be of great value to me,” he said.

The students that impressed him so much were Tom Breteler Dutch, from RSM; Konstantinos Geroulakos, Greek, also from RSM; Michal Tkaczuk, Polish, from the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland; Pamela Tschirky, Swiss, from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and Alejandro Witt, German, who studies at Universidad Adolfo Ibañez in Chile.

The CEMS Block Seminar

The Block Seminar is a mandatory element of the highly international MSc International Management/ CEMS curriculum. The CEMS Block Seminar provides CEMS members the opportunity to come together, exchange ideas, and debate and discuss innovative management topics as well as comprehensive leadership topics. It aims to integrate social activities at the beginning of term and, as such, though new CEMS students can take part at any CEMS network business school, most do their Block Seminar at the school where they spend the autumn semester. Block seminars are academically and culturally intensive. The RSM ESA Block Seminar 2014 was considered a resounding success in bringing students together during a highly-intensive week of learning.

Staff from RSM and ESA work together to arrange the seminars. The programme was started 10 years ago by ESA’s Niels Eldering and RSM Associate Professor Wim Hulsink. In 2014, staff organising the seminar were Niels Eldering; Bas Jan Veldhoen, RSM lecturer and entrepreneur; plus Professor Elko Klijn from RSM and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam who led the projects.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is ranked among Europe’s top 10 business schools for education and among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam - a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and in Taipei, Taiwan.

For more information on RSM or on this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

Homepage , International , Newsroom