Legal documents can sometimes be a burden, especially for young businesses, but there are always affordable ways to get precious advice. First Steps Legal, a London based company, offers legal support and practical information for technical companies and small businesses.
Because one of APECS' goal is to connect space domain enthusiasts, we are delighted to announce our new partnership with First Steps Legal. Let us introduce you to a story about what it means nowadays to reach out for the stars.
Alex Marinova graduated International Law from Lancaster University, UK, and is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, member of the Legal Team of the Space Generation Advisory Council and the European Centre for Space Law.
For almost two years now, she runs a legal consultancy called First Steps Legal which helps starting and small businesses with affordable legal help and consultations.
APECS: Where do you get this passion for space from?
Alexandra: When I was 16 years old, my physics teacher told us the local observatory gives free astronomy group lessons. My friend and I went to just check it out on a whim. My friend never came back, and I never left. It was a mix between the thrill of something as massive as space and the warm atmosphere in the observatory. Тhis continues being the case within the space community until today.
APECS: What role played UKSEDS as space organisation in your career path?
Alex: It helped me realise that space is actually a whole industry with endless opportunities. Because of UKSEDS I met key players on that market and discovered how things work in reality. It was a marvellous experience!
APECS: You are the founder of First Steps Legal, which helps entrepreneurs and small businesses with legal basics when entering the space domain; How did you come up with the idea of founding such a company?
Alex: I didn’t have an “idea” as such. I was left without a job for six whole months, I just kept submitting CVs, going to interviews and never got anything. Then I thought to start freelancing and contract drafting online to make a bit of money, at least for the bills and food.
At this point, I had been among space people for a few years and some of them asked me to look over some of their contracts for a small fee. I thought that there is definitely a niche there but nothing more.
I only registered the company as one of my freelancing clients asked me to sign a long-term contract. I thought it was risky to do business without limited liability in case something goes wrong. From there on, I felt that I wouldn’t like to work for anybody else ever again, so I geared my energy from job applications towards business development.
I was never a huge fan of big corporations, so I thought that I can benefit small businesses better with my skills and knowledge, and it works beautifully.
APECS: What challenges do you encounter when you work with space start-ups and why is it so important for them to have legal and business development aid?
Alex: A lot of space start-ups are run by people from technical backgrounds. This proves challenging when explaining legal concepts to them or you need to ruin some of their grand plans because of legal red tape.
I cannot stress enough the need to ask experts when in doubt. Nobody knows everything, and that’s okay. However, recognising your own shortcomings sometimes is difficult, so use your network to identify areas where you may need help.
One thing I’ve noticed with space entrepreneurs coming from engineering or scientific backgrounds is how easily they forget that businesses are for-profit and if you are seeking external investment, you must think about money. No investor would want to spend their cash on risky non-compliant projects where the numbers don’t add up.
APECS: What is the way in which private companies are changing the future of the space sector?
Alex: The “NewSpace” movement is speeding up the way things are happening in the space industry. Small companies are growing faster than ever. Competition is essential for a free market and innovation and the surge in new companies in the space market is a solid proof of that.
I love the change I see in the way investment in space is distributed and how ideas that were considered “crazy” until a few years ago are now functioning businesses. I also see diversity expanding in the teams of those businesses allowing access to people that would not normally be considered for governmental jobs, for example. I’m excited to see where this will go in the next 10 to 20 years, and I hope the trend continues.
APECS: What tips do you have on pursuing a career in the space law sector?
Alex: Space law is still very much an “alternative” field. Even some seasoned lawyers are puzzled by it. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Traditional law firms and academia are not the only ways to pursue a career in space law. Look for internships and events which can help you expand your network. Freelance, offer your services directly to clients, ask your dream clients what they need.
LinkedIn is a must, and so is overcoming yourself to send that cold email to your favourite space law professor (we all have one!). Ask questions, even if you think they are stupid. Some “stupid” questions started big discussions and have changed lives.
APECS: What tips do you have for a space entrepreneur?
Alex: Do your research beyond the technicalities of your tech.
Marketing is not some mumbo-jumbo people are trying to overcharge you for; it’s important to be legally compliant right from the start, it truly minimises risks. Don’t ignore insurance.
If you call yourself an “entrepreneur” then you must think of return on investment and do your maths.
People don’t read minds, don’t expect them to do it, be clear what you need, when and why you need it.
The sky is not the limit any more, but your mind can be. Don’t underestimate the emotional challenges attached to running your own business.
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