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A Launching Pad for Space Entrepreneurs

By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page E01

Guillermo Soehnlein was one of those kids who grew up stargazing and dreaming of space travel.

As an adult, though, he found his first success starting and selling a California company that made speech-recognition technology.

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He moved to Washington in late 2001 so his small children could be closer to their grandparents. As he drove across the country, contemplating his next career move, Soehnlein's thoughts kept orbiting back to that childhood passion: space. In Washington, he reasoned, amid the giant aerospace firms and the government space agencies, he would surely find like-minded entrepreneurs -- people who bounced ideas off of each other and shared tips on new opportunities and resources in the space industry.

His goal was to make friends with these people, learn the ropes from others who had started space businesses, figure out what was needed in the industry and launch a start-up.

"I realized that I wanted to start a space company, but I didn't know the first thing about the space business," said Soehnlein, 38. "And starting a company is all about who you know and who you can bring into the business."

His plans were derailed at step one -- finding compatriots who were trying to start their own space-oriented ventures. Soehnlein knew they must be around, but there was nothing to bring them together. So for the past 20 months, he has been setting up an organization intended to create a community of start-up executives in the space and satellite industries.

Soehnlein founded the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs, which launched its first chapter in Washington in April 2003.

At the first IASE meeting, just six people showed up. Twenty came to the next, and 75 attended the third. About 500 people have signed up to receive IASE's monthly online newsletters, and entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta have set up their own regional chapters.

Some of the members are merely thinking about starting businesses and want to learn the basics, Soehnlein said, but others are further along and are interested in finding out whom to approach for venture capital.

One of the first members, Steven Fisher, runs a small Reston firm called SlipStream Aerospace Inc. that makes software to help control private jets. He joined IASE because he is already scheming about his next start-up, and though he doesn't yet have a specific plan, he is intent on breaking into the space industry.


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