Canadian Space community discusses COVID-19 and its impact

File photo - Town hall. Credit: SpaceQ/Shutterstock.

The Satellite Canada Innovation Network (SatCan) recently held a Canadian town hall to discuss COVID-19 and its impact on the community.

SpaceQ was there to listen in and report back in the aggregate what was said. So that people could speak freely, we agreed not to mention people by name or their organizations.

Who attended

Thanks to SatCan we can share some of the statistics of the event which was held on the GoToMeeting platform.

To start, attendance was capped at 100 people. 111 people registered and 85 attended. 88 unique organizations registered from every part of the community as no organization is immune to the impact of COVID-19.

The breakdown by registered stakeholders was:

  • Industry 48%
  • Government 25%
  • Academic 12%
  • NGO/Not-for-profit 9%
  • Other 5%
  • Media 1%

I can tell you that startups were represented as were some of Canada’s leading space companies. There was also representation from several foreign based organizations.

What we heard

A virtual town hall with 88 participants can be challenging. The event lasted 2 hours and 37 minutes and moderator Iain Christie did a good job at keeping the discussion going.

The event started with introductory remarks by Michelle Mendes of SatCan and some pre-event survey statistics. Michelle said a post-event survey would follow after the meeting. 32 people participated in the pre-event survey. Here’s the results and I’ll note that it’s a small sample size:

  • 86%: “noticeable” impact on their business.
  • 21%: impact to be “very significant”.
  • 44%: revenue to decrease by more than 25%.
  • 69%: a reduction in project/deal flow.
  • 78%: will see delays in current projects.
  • 42%: will need cash flow assistance in the next 6 months.
  • 62%: Do not know / are unsure about where to go for gov’t assistance.

The second portion of the town hall consisted of the status of some of the companies and non-profits attending. All told, 13 organization spoke up. We heard from small, medium and large companies. One segment which wasn’t represented in the discussion was academia. So the town hall results do not include any input from academia.

SatCan’s synopsis of the meeting was thorough and it’s presented below.

A couple of additional items I would add are:

  • Stakeholders didn’t discuss if or which government assistance programs they will tap into. But some did discuss their value but also reported problems in deciding which to apply for. And it’s not just the small companies looking for a government assistance, in an interview with SpaceQ, MDA CEO Mike Greenley said they would be applying for some assistance.
  • The cancellation of events and conferences is having a significant effect on all businesses. All use these events for business development and the impact could lead to fewer sales and projects.
  • Some businesses just can’t work from home. They have manufacturing or lab facilities. This poses a problem. Some work is on hold, while other projects have to be modified. The end result is less revenue and possibly layoffs.
  • The investment community has basically put the brakes on most new investment. That’s a big problem for everyone, especially startups.

The second part of the town hall was a check in by various government departments. All are working diligently to serve the community and working on ways to hep the community. Many have new programs designed to foster innovative solutions to address COVID-19 that are suitable for some in the space community.

The last part of the town hall was a short Q&A. Here we heard once again that local supply chains are affected and that government grants and contributions must continue.

One theme worth mentioning that we heard in the town hall and privately, is that of the Government as the customer. In normal times a of portion domestic revenues in the space community are derived from Government as the customer. That’s ok and good. However, businesses should not rely on the government solely for revenue. But, in times like these, we heard that it’s important that government step-up a little more as a customer where possible.

It’s also important to remember, and as outlined in the latest State of the Canadian Space Sector report, that while export revenues have been increasing, domestic revenues have been decreasing. Now however, we’re likely to see a decrease in exports. Combined with a decrease in domestic revenues and we could see a contraction in the Canadian space sector.

SatCan synopsis on COVID-19 impact

Status of companies

  • Some SME companies reported they are doing well.
  • There have been adjustment how all companies are working, but no downturn thus far.
  • Most are fine in the near term but will need assistance in the long term.
  • There are concerns about future contracts and keeping those contracts on schedule.
  • Some companies are having difficulty supporting global projects that continue to have aggressive timing.
  • Impacts on other sectors, which anchor revenue for some companies, have created a downturn in R & D and commercial space activity.
  • For companies that work in the secular (non-space) technology sector and the downstream space markets, there has been little impact.
  • Those with ground stations in the North continue to serve seeing little impact.
  • Companies are depending on previously scheduled government programs and procurements to keep to schedule. There was significant concern that if those efforts slip, the outlook for many will take a significant turn for the worse.

Business development

  • There have been difficulties arranging demonstrations and business development die to the cancellation of conferences and meetings.
  • It was noted that if conference and network activities do not restart in the near term, a strong reduction of business will be seen in 6-12 months.

Finance and accounting

  • Governments postponement of tax filings has created difficulty for those that rely on SR&ED credits.
  • For some cashflow is fine now, but organizations foresee issues in the next 4-8 months.
  • Some start-ups are in a holding pattern as they are finding it difficult to find venture capital or any other investment, causing them to dip into their runway of funds.
  • For not-for-profits, sponsorships have been difficult and existing sponsorships/supports have been retracted until there is more certainty on the outcome of the crisis.
  • Start-ups and SME’s, that have been working on investment/investors, have found that there is little appetite to continue discussions and investing has been put on hold.

Government support

  • The smaller companies have found it difficult to navigate the support programs.
  • Organizations all found the programs and the supports being offered to individuals and business very difficult to understand, if they are eligible or not.

Space sector added value

  • There are several companies, large and small, that have already retooled at least part of their facilities to make more PPE.
  • Some companies would find it useful, as an intermediary measure, to pivot to COVID-19 manufacturing.
  • Commendations were made to all IT support, in all firms, that have supported remote workers.

Young professionals/students

  • This crisis is hitting students hard where they cannot work on their projects and cannot gain much needed experience.
  • A suggestion was made to pivot toward providing educational programs and content to support students.
  • Organization were encouraged to hire or involve students who have just graduated in commercial, research and scientific activity.

Government

  • The public sector continues to work outside the norm to keep the sector moving.
  • The industry was encouraged to reach out their representatives to provide information on the health of their company and business pipeline.
  • Clients of Government departments and programs may rely on the government to help guide them through the stimulus and other bespoke programs available.
  • Those in Government departments would be interested in any input for future activities and would like to learn more about methods and opportunities to connect with the space community.

Resources

  • Some suggestions for creating opportunities for the community to meet online were discussed to foster networking and collaboration.
  • A discussion of Lunar Gateway took place. Of particular concern is Its impact on Canada since it has been taken off the critical path while NASA is still pushing for lunar landing funding. It was noted that a discussion about the Lunar Gateway could be hosted by SatCan.
  • One of the participants suggested “Managing the Crisis you Tried to Prevent”. There are some universal lessons/suggestions for most any crisis – including now.

Fundraising in the time of COVID-19

SatCan is holding a webinar this Wednesday, April 22 at noon EDT on the topic of Funding for the Space Sector: Help to Get Grants in a Time of Crisis and Beyond. The meeting is co-hosted by the Fundingportal.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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