We spoke with Radu Tudorache who’s part of our Systems Engineering team here at Space Forge

He is a fantastic member of the team with an amazing background. His big ideas and dedication to make anything he puts his mind to happen is an asset to the team at Space Forge - his background as an entrepreneur is how he got the job after all!

Read on to find out more about his business and how it led him to join Space Forge.

Radu, what are your biggest achievements?

“My role here at Space Forge, and the startup business I created as part of my master's degree.

My masters project was a self-proposed idea with five other students. It is amazing that we were able to develop it; being able to roll out the project as a startup with two of the original six people. It didn’t work out at the end of the day, but the fact we got as far as we did is something that I take great pride in and it is probably one of the best learning experiences I've had.”

How did it start?

“For the 4th year of my MEng course you are required to do a group course which is worth about three modules worth of credits, so the biggest thing you will do at uni.

We wanted to develop a small compact low-cost aerial vehicle for search and rescue. In terms of rolling it out into a startup - we were an ambitious group. We didn't want this to just be a prototype; we wanted to build it out into a physical product, something to demonstrate and fly. The parts are very expensive - the university gave us a budget of £850 which was not enough to  buy one propeller for one of the six motors, so we applied for extra funding. We put a lot of effort into getting that extra funding, reaching out to suppliers, reaching out to companies who had facilities that we might need, and reaching out to get all sorts of sponsorship deals.

Amongst those, we also enrolled in the startup incubator at our university and things picked up from there. Initially, it was a group of six of us trying to get together funding to build our prototype and we realised quite quickly that there was a lot of potential in this. When we had that conversation on whether we wanted to continue with the project, two of us were keen; this was a big deal and we wanted to commit. The other four stayed on board to finish the project. Beyond that, myself and my co-founder carried it through for another few months as part of the incubator, and then carried on developing the business on our own during the following year.”

Biggest challenge?

“Discovering that building a prototype is expensive!

The university gave us a budget of £850 and we estimated that the price of manufacturing one vehicle was about £120,000. The idea was that we wanted to build a drone, but it was a drone big enough to sit in it and pilot it in the air. So even looking to build a prototype that can’t lift a person, but could lift 40-50 kg would cost tens of thousands.

That was the biggest challenge - raising the funding for the components. Our supervisor said you need to go and get all the funding you can get, leave nothing on the table. We designed our system and then asked ourselves which parts do we need, and we would call every single provider, and explain our idea.We were very surprised at how much positive feedback we received!

Nearly all of the suppliers were very interested in helping us out, and on an £850 budget, we ended up raising almost £15,000 worth of parts. No one gave us money, but people were interested. For example, we were able to secure old stock from one company which equated to £3000 worth of batteries. Same with propellers, same with motors. It's amazing how far we got by just emailing companies and asking nicely!”

Is it something you're looking to pick up in the future?

“With this specific project, it was a really new concept at the time. In the four years since, there have been huge developments; there is a Swiss company who has built almost exactly what we designed. A very similar vehicle to ours - now  they are running test flights in the US, and $4-5 million in backorders.

It's a bittersweet feeling; that could have been us!

I would definitely start another company. I have always been keen on having my own business, I have many ideas in my head. This one was so close to working out, but I will do something else. I’ll have another idea.”

Do you use any of the skills you developed in your own business at Space Forge?

“Those skills are what got me the job! My initial role within my company was “drone lead”. I had experience working with that technology, having had a masters project in drone design, and at the scale that an organisation needs.

I think that experience helped me in the technical interview - Space Forge were impressed enough to offer me the job. My first few years at Space Forge was not systems engineering for the satellite, but it was using drone technology to build the capture system.”

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

“The aerospace industry can be a difficult market. But there is always no harm in asking! It was genuinely incredible how much support we had from pitching to people in return for sponsorship. Most companies were very amenable. Being bold enough to ask will open so many doors!”