Sara Spanelo has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan. She has experience working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as Google. She had a goal of becoming an astronaut but didn’t make it through the tryouts. But she has made her own mark in space.
It seems hard to believe, but 90% of Earth does not have access to the internet. This includes areas which are lightly habited including oceans, deserts, and polar regions. Many parts of developing nations still are void zones for internet access. To provide conventional access is far too expensive. Satellite connections are viable options but also far too expensive.
Sara and her co-founder, Ben Longmier, created Swarm, a satellite network that can provide internet access to remote areas at a fraction of the cost. Swarm satellites are small, about the size of a mobile phone. They can be launched into space on rockets on a “ride-along” basis. Swarm plans to have 150 satellites in space by the end of 2021 at a cost of $20,000 per satellite.
Swarm satellites are designed to transmit vital information from remote areas to data centers and back. For example, in agricultural applications, data transmitted by Swarm satellites can provide for precision farming. In environmental applications, Swarm satellites can aid in disaster response.
For Sara, becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something she learned in school. While at Google, she participated in the Rapid Evaluation program where innovators learn how to pitch ideas to make the world a better place. Her idea wasn’t unique, but the size of the satellites made the idea affordable. Sara and her partner were able to secure $25 million in funding to provide enough satellites for global coverage.
For many engineers, especially women, the thought of becoming an entrepreneur is not a career goal starting out. In reality, women engineers are often naturals for entrepreneurial careers. They find it appealing to create a business where they can serve a societal need. They have organizational skills that are vital in starting a business. And they often have observational skills for sensing real needs of others. What is often holding them back is the unwillingness to take a career risk. The stories of Sara and many other women starting businesses today should alleviate the fear of risk taking.
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“Follow your passion – and if you don’t know what it is, realize that one reason for your existence on Earth is to find it.” – Oprah Winfrey