Satellites are amassing earth observation data, which the European Space Agency (ESA) and SAP make available to developers creating apps and use cases for the data.
The Idea for “Space Instagram”
“I always wanted to start a company,” Jérôme says. After getting a PhD in geophysics, he worked as a senior expert for the French Space Agency in Toulouse. He undertook his first entrepreneurial endeavor in 2010. “There was not much data to work with at the time,” he remembers. “All data was commercial.”
With the ESA beginning to provide earth observation data for the development of use cases, things changed. In the spring of 2016, Jérôme started SnapPlanet based on the idea of making latest imagery of the earth surface publicly and easily accessible via mobile app.
“I think France is a very good place for founding startups,” Jérôme says. “In recent years, a lot was done to improve the process of founding. This makes it relatively easy to start a company of your own.”
While founding SnapPlanet, Jérôme received help from the French Space Agency as well as support from the European Commission through the Copernicus Masters.
Presented at the startup village Toulouse Space Show, SnapPlanet received outstanding feedback. This experience confirmed Jérôme‘s conviction that there was strong potential in the application. It turned out to be the right place and the right time.
“In Toulouse, we have a space community,” Jérôme explains. “That makes it easy to find people to work with.” In recent years, Jérôme’s native city of Toulouse has built up a reputation in and outside of France as a “technopole,” a technology hotspot. As early as the seventies, the French government decided to build up the capital of the Occitanie region in Southern France as the French center of spacecraft and aeronautics. “Starting with Airbus, today all the space industry is in Toulouse.”
Best App Winner at SAP-ESA Space App Camp
In 2016, SnapPlanet entered the app competition at Space App Camp, held annually by SAP and the ESA for which startups develop apps on SAP Cloud Platform that leverage earth observation and business data. The apps are supposed to give examples on how this kind of Big Data can be used for new solutions and use cases in different industries and lines of business.
In preparation for the Space App Camp competition, Jérôme worked with experts from SAP for the first time. “They were super-nice people, listening to me, trying to help with everything,” he says with appreciation. “I wasn’t familiar with SAP Cloud Platform at the time, so one of the first steps was getting a webinar on what it was and how to build apps with it. The SAP experts had a very positive attitude toward the project.”
For a good reason: SnapPlanet won the Space App Camp competition and now the intention is to get the startup into the SAP Startup Focus program.
Finding a Viable Business Model
SnapPlanet is currently freely accessible. That doesn’t mean that Jérôme is opposed to eventually earning money with his invention. In fact, he is dedicating 2017 to building up a viable business model for SnapPlanet.
“I did not start with use cases but with an idea for an app. 2016 was spent for developing the mobile app. Now that I’m awaiting the decision regarding the SAP Startup Focus program, I can focus on the business part.”
Imagined originally as a B2C scenario, SnapPlanet is all about having a growing community to trace and discuss observations. It serves an educational purpose. “I want to make it easy to share images of earth, to discuss what’s happening in different corners of the earth right now. So we can all monitor how our planet is changing, so we can see for ourselves the effects of global warming, for instance, or of war and conflict — but also to see fresh pictures of your next holiday trip.”
For that purpose, it is vital for SnapPlanet to access and provide up-to-date pictures of the surface of the earth. That makes it possible not only to observe the status quo but also to detect changes.
According to Jérôme, SnapPlanet is well-received within the academic world: “Some of the platform users are professional biologists or geologists. I receive inquiries about certain images, about what exactly they show. Consumers are interested in SnapPlanet as an educational platform.”
As a change notification application, SnapPlanet could in fact be used for security purposes or whistleblowing. NGOs such as Greenpeace could use the app to monitor the Amazon rainforest and thus keep on eye on wood being cut there. If the system detects a major change in the imagery, it might be indicating that someone must have been cutting a massive amount of trees recently.
Registering SnapPlanet as a company is imminent. Jérôme recently signed on a UX designer to make the SnapPlanet platform easier accessible for various types of users. “It’s all about giving the opportunity to all kinds of people to see for themselves what is currently happening on earth and raise awareness of our living planet.”
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