WEINTRAUS Founder Scott Weintraub on Changing the World - "Mutare Mundi"

WEINTRAUS Founder Scott Weintraub on Changing the World - "Mutare Mundi"

Leadership Monthly: Tell us about your story and how it feels to reach the milestones you've set for your company

Scott Weintraub: Well, it feels fantastic. I know that we still have a long way to go, but the journey is what it's all about, and it's been an incredible one: from my days at ocean rescue; to transitioning into space operations; to finding out about the massive amounts of debris we have in orbit; to looking for a solution that could actually produce a profit and mitigate space debris; to looking into satellite servicing; to entering into a previous business-plan competition, with just an idea; and to landing a business-development internship in Sydney, Australia, where I went down and worked with experts in astronautics, robotics, orbital mechanics, and where I built out the business model for WEINTRAUS. I then came back to the US to finish out my degree in space operations at Embry–Riddle, and finally launched WEINTRAUS in January.

During this time, we just so happened to find out that Embry–Riddle was building a 60-million-dollar research park that had an incubator in it. So, I applied for it, and was the first company accepted into the incubator. We then found out that there's a venture fund there that's accepting five teams for their advanced accelerator with seed funding, which by the way is the only accelerator in Florida with seed funding, and we got accepted to that. That lead us to now, where we officially have a team. We have industry partners that make up experts in every area of spaceflight, including mission operations and support guys that have aerospace engineering experience of over 200 space missions from a wide variety of space-shuttle and other missions.

It feels amazing. It feels amazing not just because where we've gotten to but because the support we've gotten. The support of the space industry is incredible. It's absolutely incredible to see how many people are pushing for entrepreneurs to come in and change the way old space was done. It's unbelievable.

Leadership Monthly: What's your driving force as an entrepreneur?

Scott Weintraub: It's an extremely ambitious answer, but it's "Mutare Mundi" and that's our motto. It stands for "To Change the World," and that's my personal goal in life. It's also the goal of WEINTRAUS. It extends back to my days when I did ocean rescue. I remember losing people and bringing people back to life. I've seen people with the look in their eye, that they thought they were going to die, until I came and rescued them. That did something to me, and it made me want to have a larger impact. I wanted to change the world, but I didn't know how I was going to do it.

It just so happened that this desire led to WEINTRAUS because I saw the debris problem. I said, what if we built a debris-mitigation technology? Which, we've all seen so many times before but there's never been a business case around it. So, I knew we can help the business of space by mitigating debris, but how am I going to change the world if I don't have any profits to reinvest into the world? So that's when I started looking into satellite servicing and found out, wow, this is the Holy Grail that no one's ever been able to successfully do. How can I do it? How can I make it more affordable? How can I make this happen and produce enough profit that I can change the world? Then I got deeper and deeper into the business model and saw that there's so much money to be made revolutionising the industry: in the way we manufacture spacecraft; through to satellite servicing capabilities; to grabbing spacecraft in storage orbits and refurbishing them in orbit to be able to use again; to creating better launch placement solutions for small spacecraft with our orbital tug and the ability to manoeuvre to different locations, which is unprecedented with the current and emerging options.

So, I started to see it, and I started to say, okay, to change the world we can do this for satellite servicing because it actually has a tremendous trickle-down effect. I mean, if you think about it, our services could drastically lower the cost of a satellite operator that provides data services to your cell phone, which in turn allows them to offer a lower price to the consumer, i.e., you. So, our trickle-down effect alone, from just satellite servicing, will affect the world, and that's not even including the philanthropy that I'd love to get into at one point. To be able to reinvest in cleantech and new energy and help bring some of these things to third-world countries. So, it really stems back to my days at ocean rescue where I got that feeling, so few get to see, of what it's like to actually save someone life. I knew from then on, that my goal in life was to try to change the world and positively affect more people.

Leadership Monthly: How do you keep yourself focused on this goal and stay focused?

Scott Weintraub: There are many different aspects that play into that. The first one is going to be finding your passion, and you see that so many times with entrepreneurs. You have to find your passion and something that you are willing to do for no money.

Now, it just so happened that something inside of me clicked. I knew this was my passion, and I knew no matter what, I was willing to do this and die trying. Whether it was successful and whether or not I ever made any money out of it. So, once you're able to figure that out, and you actually find your true passion, then everything else just falls in place. It's a matter of, is this a real business case? Is the timing right? Is it the solution to an actual problem? And then, that's where the hard work comes in. That means going out and talking to customers and talking to experts, finding out that you actually have a solution that's scalable to multiple problems across the board.

So again, the first part, find your passion. The second part is put in the hard work to validate your idea, and the third part is persistence. And the second part of your question, how to keep going. Well, I read tons of entrepreneurial books. I watch tons of entrepreneurial speakers, and that's where I get it from because if they've done it, I can do it. Most of these people had lives so much worse than mine: they were homeless; they were poor; they had children; their wives left them; they had serious issues going on. But they still became some of the most successful people who ever lived.

So, there's a lot of factors: follow your passion; validate your idea around your passion; and be willing to pivot in order to make sure that you're meeting the market. Be persistent and never give up, and there is a lot that comes with that of course. Every entrepreneur is going to go through the hard times and the stress levels, but that comes back to passion. If you have the passion, you'll just keep putting that one foot forward no matter what you're going through. So just keep falling forward, and that's how I get through it.

Leadership Monthly: Tell us more about finding your passion. Was it a wakeup call or something more gradual?

Scott Weintraub: Right, so it was definitely a gradual experience in the beginning. I would say over about two and a half years, but I didn't really get into it until about a year ago. The first year and a half was all gradual. It was just nice slow ideas, doing research, kind of figuring out what exactly I wanted to do, and then one day it did hit me, and it was because I had gone out and done some customer development research. I reached out to potential customers, and I reached out to industry experts, most of them PhD-level with at least 15 years’ experience in the aerospace industry. I wanted to validate the question: can I do this? I didn't even have my bachelor's degree at the time; can I do this as somebody coming out who will have a bachelor's degree and get the support? Will people take me seriously? And that was when it hit me. And by the end of the week, I have done 30 customer interviews, and I had realised that okay this is real. This is a solution to a problem. People do believe in me. They do see that I can make this happen. They do believe in the technology, and the timing is right for the technology.

So, it was gradual, until that point, and then it hit me, this is real, and that's when I went for the incubator and got in. You know business is a lot about timing. I mean you could have the best product in the world but if the timing is not right, it's never going to be successful. I've tested time and time again with so many different people, and the timing is right for what we looking to do, and it's time that somebody came along and did it in an affordable way with a scalable model that allows us to tap into this and actually do it. Instead of the problem we've always had: it's too expensive.

Leadership Monthly: You've mentioned about the incredible support you've received starting up your space business. Would you like to tell us a little more about that?

Scott Weintraub: Absolutely, so there's actually a few people I’ll mention. The first are my family, of course. To do something like this, you need a support structure, and I was fortunate enough to have a family who have supported me 100 percent. All the way through my internship in Australia, which was unpaid. My family came together and supported me to help me get there because all I did for four months was work on this business and they believed in me. So first and foremost, I wouldn't be here today without the support of my family.

Secondly, Jason Held, Saber Astronautics, Sydney, Australia. I wouldn't be here today without him. He believed in me when I had just an idea, and he brought me down there, and he spent time with me every day for four months and answered every question I ever had. He taught me orbital mechanics, spacecraft engineering, and all the other operations that I hadn't learned in my degree. And he's now with us as a chief advisor at WEINTRAUS. So, I wouldn't be here without my family. I wouldn't be here without Jason, and even more so, I wouldn't be here without Embry–Riddle.

At Embry–Riddle there's no single person I'm going to single out; they know who they are. But Embry–Riddle has supported me. Every professor I've met with over the last two and a half years has had an open door and found time for me. The executives and the higher ups at Embry–Riddle have found time for me. They gave me a chance in the incubator, and they still continue to support me. They actually told us that they would love us to transfer from incubation to a tenant partner and build our spacecraft here. So, we're in the process of building out a spaceflight simulator using Saber's mission-operation software to actually conduct real-time mission simulations with 98% accuracy and then bring interns over from Embry–Riddle. So not only have they supported me, but now I'm going to support them and help build out their space programme and bring interns over and give them the opportunity to work on spacecraft and get involved in real astronautics. So those are the three big players, and I would not be here today without my family, without Jason Held, and without the huge team of Embry–Riddle and their support.

Leadership Monthly: So, after Saber, how important is an internship in your opinion to finding your own way in the space industry?

Scott Weintraub: I think that it really comes down to your passion again, and I'm just such a big believer in that. You have to stop following the status quo and you need to find out what you want to do with your life. If there's no money in anything that you choose to do, what would you do, and that's what you need to do. So, if you want to work for NASA, and you would do it for nothing, that's great. Go try to get a NASA internship. Go try to work for Boeing. Go try to work for Lockheed or one of the other big ones. They will usually pay you for an internship. But if you see yourself being an outside-of-the-box thinker or you have an idea, and your passion is something like I'm doing, that is innovative, and many have tried before, and you think that you have the secret source that can actually make it happen now because the timing's right and the technology's right, then follow the internship paid or unpaid that's going to help you get there. That's what I did.

I looked around at different internships, and I only applied to Jason Held’s because this is where I knew that I needed to be. I had to get this internship. I showed Jason that I needed this internship, and I was going to do anything for it. So, I know that if you have that passion, then you will be successful in your realm too because people will see that that you're willing to do anything to be there, regardless if you're getting paid or not. So, it's just, you know, people get caught up with I have to go to graduate college, and I have to get a job, and I know it's a cliché, but you only live once, right? So, do what you want.

I could be doing something else right now with a comfortable job somewhere making a decent salary for a space company. Plenty of my peers and team members have been offered high-paying jobs, and they've turned them down to come work with us. This is a testament that shows they believe not only in me, but in our company as well. I've risked everything to be here and chase a dream. So that's what you need to look at. What is your true passion and follow it, and if you need support go on YouTube there are thousands of motivational videos. I listen to one every single day, it's the truth, every day, and it keeps me going.