Kleos moved from the Technoport in Belval to 26 rue des Gaulois in Bonnevoie in September 2018
Kleos Space was the third new space firm to establish offices around the Gare district, when it “graduated” from the Technoport in Belval to Bonnevoie in September.
“It was one of the attractions that Spire is 500 metres in one direction and iSpace 500 metres in the other,” Kleos director Andy Bowyer tells me when I visit on 4 September.
With the paint still drying and carpenters fiendishly working to complete meeting rooms, the top floor of 26 rue des Gaulois looks far from finished. But, in the fast-paced world of data gathering nano satellites for defence purposes, there is no time to lose.
Busy 12 months
Kleos Space was created just over 12 months ago as a spin-off of Andy Bowyer’s Magna Parva business. In that time, they have raised A$11m (€6.96m) via IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange, opened an office in Canberra, Australia and more than doubled the work force. What is more, they will launch their first radio transmission data gathering satellite, the Scouting Mission, with GomSpace in 2019.
To understand why the firm chose Bonnevoie, a large, mainly residential district behind the central train station, as its new hub, one has to wind back the clock to 2017 when the British entrepreneur was scouting for a location. “We looked at other places like Colorado, northern Spain, the Basque region, which has a very active engineering sector, Scotland, Wales, the UK,” he says.
The outcome of Brexit referendum in 2016 was not the reason for choosing Luxembourg, he stresses. Rather, it was the infrastructure (Luxembourg boasts a quarter of Europe’s category 4 data centres) and economy minister Etienne Schneider’s “belief in the industry”, a conviction which has seen Luxembourg focus heavily on diversifying the economy into new space.
Kleos director and co-founder Andy Bowyer was born in Canada and grew up in the UK. Photo: Kleos.
Bowyer believes Schneider was interested in Kleos because it was “commercially viable within a short time frame.” But, Kleos Space was much more than just another new space business--the firm’s activities complement the country’s growing expertise in the domain of military intelligence gathering and communications.
Kleos was based out of state-run incubator Technoport, in Belval, for its first 12 months. It was an experience Bowyer describes as a “soft landing into Luxembourg”, without which he says “we wouldn’t be where we are now.”
“A practical solution”
The IPO and signing of an MoU with Airbus were key steps in enabling the team to grow (from 5 to 13 over 12 months) and find a new home. “In terms of building our business and growing it, it seemed most sensible to move it to a place where most people were,” Bowyer says about the capital city location, adding: “It comes down to people and commutes.”
Among the new hires, drawn mostly from Europe, few came with cars and almost all lived in the capital. Add to the mix that Bowyer holds regular meetings in the city and the fact that the satellites are manufactured in Denmark, so they didn’t need a huge site, and the solution was obvious.
Anyone who has tried to recruit talent to Luxembourg from abroad will be familiar with the challenges. Bowyer found out the hard way, calling the recruitment process a “psychological hurdle”. “Now we’re doing it and know what we have to do and the salaries we have to pay,” he says.
It helped he was able to hire some local talent. Data, after all, is data, regardless of industry and Bowyer found his data scientists did not need to have a space background, so some were drawn from the financial sector.
After its first launch, Kleos will begin revenue gathering and launching further satellites after which Bowyer says it will “grow at a fairly steady pace”, particularly as it enters the next stage, the in-space manufacture of composite beams
The workforce is expected to exceed 200 over the next four years, in which time the company will outgrow Bonnevoie.
In May 2018, Luxembourg’s space affairs chief Marc Serres mentioned the idea of building a space campus in Luxembourg. Would that be attractive for Kleos? “I think there’s a danger of trying to overly force these things. What we need to do is build up a bit of a community naturally by encouraging companies to come here and enthusing them,” Bowyer says, adding that is precisely what has happened with Kleos being just a stone’s throw away from Spire and iSpace. “You could essentially see the country as a space campus” the director said, adding: “Look at all the positives Luxembourg has got. It doesn’t matter where you are because everything is just 20 minutes away.”