When a service like Google Maps wants to put a satellite in space, it costs upwards of $50 million. Google may have that kind of money, but it’s out of reach for most people. That’s where BYU student Riley Meik comes in.
His new venture Sugarhouse Aerospace — launched with mentoring and support from the BYU Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology — makes space accessible to consumers and students, one rocket at a time.
“When I tell people that I’ve started an aerospace company, the reaction is either ‘you’re crazy’ or ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of,’” Meik said.
The foundational idea is simple. Instead of paying for a whole rocket to launch your technology into space, Meik wants to offer smaller slots or “seats” on a rocket and send multiple payloads in one trip. (Think of it as buying a plane ticket instead of buying the whole plane every time you fly.) Meik and co-founder Steve Heller are building rockets with motors that propel payloads to an altitude of 125 kilometers, where they will be exposed to 6 minutes of of microgravity time. They’re targeting research, education and consumer sectors to provide the payloads, with an anticipated first launch slated for Dec. 14, 2019.
“More than anything it's about being able to access the environment of space, and study it for a low cost,” Meik said. “We want to help students get hands-on experience with space technology before they ever enter the aerospace industry. Right now, you can send an object the size of a credit card into space for $30,000. With our plan, you can do the same thing for as low as $1,000.”
Meik and Heller have been growing their business model for a year now, and they’ve already claimed multiple awards from the Rollins Center. After winning BYU’s 2019 Student Innovator of the Year award, they also placed in the top 10 teams of The New Venture Challenge, which awarded them $15,000. These competitions, as well as this week’s International Business Model Competition — where 40 finalists from across the world will compete for the $40,000 top prize — are all part of the Rollins Center’s efforts to build young entrepreneurs.
“The Rollins Center has been fantastic for us," Meik said. "We’ve been working on the rocket side of things for years, but they helped us with the actual business. A lot of our most influential mentors came because of events that they've hosted. We are super grateful for them.”
The Rollins Center provides a supportive environment for all BYU students interested in starting and growing tech and scalable ventures. The center is also a big part of why BYU is currently ranked No. 4 for undergraduate entrepreneurship and No. 10 for graduate entrepreneurship by Entrepreneur Magazine.
"Riley is a great example of the innovation taking place all over BYU's campus," said Scott Petersen, director of the Rollins Center. "He and his partner identified an under-served area in their field and then tenaciously developed a viable solution that is gaining traction. His journey punctuates how we're helping students start businesses. We offer significant resources that help student start businesses while they're still in school."
Although Sugarhouse Aerospace will be a NASA launch provider by the end of the year, they want to keep their focus on giving students the possibility of learning about space and launching their own space payloads. Meik and Heller plan to develop a curriculum for K-12 students that helps them design their own little experiment and send it into space.
“Just like you can purchase a kit to build a model airplane or a little robot, we want to provide a little kit for spacecrafts. Our focus is aerospace testing, educational technology, and consumer technology.”