“[In the Netherlands] there is so much goodwill for connections, contacts, funding and the perception of entrepreneurship is very positive, which helps a lot especially during the first steps of a start-up, which are the most difficult,” - Alexander Gunkel, Space4Good
Most entrepreneurs dream of their companies becoming unicorns, worth billions of dollars and employing thousands of people. Alexander Gunkel, the CEO and Founder of Space4Good, has different aspirations and dreams coupled with becoming a successful entrepreneur. Alexander is by definition a social entrepreneur but even more than that, Alexander is working 4 Good. More specifically his company Space4Good is using satellites to monitor social and environmental impact initiatives all around the world ranging from reforestation monitoring to humanitarian aid in developing countries.
Alexander studied mechanical engineering and business administration in Germany, where he was drawn to product development and innovation management. After taking part in an Erasmus program for young entrepreneurs he was matched with a successful entrepreneur running an innovation consultancy and software development company where he learned valuable lessons on what it means to run a business. After the four-month program, Alexander realized he did not want to be an entrepreneur just yet given how difficult it appeared at that time.
While his entrepreneurial journey took a backseat, he started his professional career at the European Space Agency (ESA) as a project manager. This was his first contact with space technology, and a valuable one at that, where he would eventually connect with the technology transfer office. The technology transfer office focuses on commercializing space technologies for terrestrial applications including dedicated ESA Business Incubation Centers which help aspiring space entrepreneurs during their first steps of setting up a company. Through one of their programs Alexander co-founded his first venture, Skytree, which is working on a CO2 recycling system originating from the International Space Station (ISS). This experience paved the way for Alexander to become a serial impact entrepreneur and to found Space4Good.
The start of Space4Good
Space4Good was a consolidation of many of Alexander’s activities but it had a deeper question to answer. Not only did it seek to commercialize space technology but it asked the question, why do so? After meeting with social entrepreneurs at ImpactHub in Amsterdam, new entrepreneurial paths focused on societal and environmental good became more apparent. Additionally, by focusing on software rather than hardware, quick and direct results were within reach and this provided motivation to Alexander and his team.
Space4Good’s work has increased from small projects to large scale paying opportunities in a short amount of time. Their focus on using satellite earth observation data to support impact initiatives and change makers allows the team to contribute to each of the SDGs and thereby create a positive impact on people’s lives and on the environment.
Alexander firmly believes that not every organization needs an IPO or to scale to thousands of people. If the firm can achieve their impact and financial goals with a small team, Space4Good would rather be a small team than to scale for the sake of scaling. The environment working in the Netherlands is a positive reinforcement of these beliefs as Alexander points out that there is a great environment for sustainable and social startups with resources and funding available at a range of places. His next challenge lies in managing a growing team of 10 people as of September, the largest company he has ever led.
His advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs is to narrow down on one particular social or environmental problem they feel most connected to, envision the change they want to see and then start discovering how they can become the largest, positive actor possible.