It has to be one of the most impressive human feats of the last century.
Neil Armstrong descends the short ladder from his landing capsule, takes a big breath, and sets foot on the Moon. One small step for a man, he famously remarked, and one giant leap for mankind. The Apollo 11 mission that saw Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to walk on the Moon was the culmination of nearly a decade or work by the United States and its space agency, NASA, to achieve the vision articulated by President Kennedy in his famous speech at Rice Stadium in 1962.
Yet more than simply a new era in exploring what lies beyond our planet, the Apollo missions also ushered in a new era of collaboration between companies, universities, researchers, and government. Indeed, NASA stands as a prime example of what can be achieved when collaboration is encouraged and slow-to-change groups engage with nimbler and more innovative partners to the benefit of both.
Consider the collaborators involved in the NASA moonshot.
In 1960 – just two years before Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon – the total number of employees at NASA numbered around 10,000. Following his commitment to the moonshot and an influx of funding from the federal government that number grew to 36,000.
But this three-fold growth is nothing compared to the ramp up in collaboration between the government agency NASA and the world of research, academia, and business.
In the same period that the NASA workforce grew to 36,000 the number of people employed on NASA projects as outside contractors and researchers exploded to 376,000! Despite what the historical images might suggest, more than 9 out of 10 of the people who worked on the Apollo projects were not working directly for NASA.
Even today this sort of collaboration with industry, small and specialized companies, and even other countries continues at NASA. Amongst the top ten contractors to NASA in 2015 were industrial aerospace giant Boeing, the prestigious Caltech university, Elon Musk’s space startup SpaceX, and even the Russian Space Agency.
Yes, when NASA lacks the expertise, creativity, innovation, or know-how it is ready and willing to look outside of its tall institutional walls to find it, even contracting with a once-rival space agency with specialized capabilities when those capabilities are best-in-class.
Cosmo Tech is not in the space exploration business, but we are in the business of collaborating with some of the biggest companies in the world.
These multinational companies are in some ways very similar to NASA. They have incredible experience in their sphere of expertise, they are large, employ many thousands of people stationed around the world, and have the resources to achieve almost anything they wish to target.
Yet increasingly these companies call on smaller partners, startups, and budding technology innovators to help them deliver the transformation they desire. Much like the contractors to NASA, these smaller firms often prove to be more agile and innovative by nature. Partnering with startups can lead to truly transformational solutions and help the larger company to achieve vital corporate evolution in an increasingly complex environment.
Across industry, then, we are seeing a range of modern moonshots.
Companies like GE are partnering with companies like Cosmo Tech to deliver on the promise of Smart Grids. Drawing on our expertise in modeling and simulating complex systems allows GE to make progress towards their broader goal of Community Energy Management for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Mobile giant Samsung is partnering with startups like SmartThings to innovate in home appliances and the Smart Home, and the world’s biggest retailer Walmart now hosts open innovation technology calls to find answers to its challenges outside of its massive organization.
Startups like Cosmo Tech, SmartThings, and others bring their innovative spirit to their larger partners and work hand-in-hand to solve challenges that neither could truly overcome alone.
And, much like putting a man on the moon rewrote the book on how companies, universities, and the government work together, these collaborations are changing the face of business across entire industries. It’s an exciting time to be working on some of the most important industrial, commercial, environmental and social issues with C-Level executives willing to transform their industries and the world, and I’m proud that Cosmo Tech is playing a part.