New journey for space technology specialists

Bright Ascension founding director Dr Peter Mendham (right) with technical director, Dr Mark McCrum, and a satellite launch control board.

Dundee based space technology firm Bright Ascension has reached a new frontier in its corpoate development after agreeing a switch to employee ownership.

The company, which has its headquarters at the city’s Laurel Bank and which also has an operational base in Edinburgh, played an instrumental role in Scotland’s first ever satellite launch in 2014.

The firm was founded five and a half years ago by Dr Peter Mendham after he identified the potential for creating a business specialising in software for satellite development, mission control and operations.

He was joined in his misson a year later by Dr Mark McCrum – who is now the firm’s technical director – and the pair set out on an entrepreneurial journey together.

The company – one of a handful of space technology related firms in Dundee – has since grown to a staff of nine and are now switching to a new employee-owned structure.

Dr McCrum said the company first started looking at alternative management models four years ago.

“In order to help meet plans for growth and to continue developing and creating innovative products, we started investigating the possibility of employee ownership in 2013 through an initial consultation with Co-operative Development Scotland,” Dr McCrum said.

“We met with a CDS advisor who explained employee ownership and that this might open up investment opportunities for the business.

“CDS introduced us to Capital for Colleagues, an investment vehicle focused on employee ownership and an appropriate package was developed.

“As well as the need for investment we were interested in employee ownership because it seems like the fairest way to structure the ownership of a company.

“In order to build a world class company we need to attract, retain, motivate and harness the best talent in the field and adopting a employee ownership model allows us to do that.”

The firm generated revenues of £314,000 last year and posted a profit of £27,000.

Dr McCrum said the recruitment of three new employees had spurred the change.

“Our staff have been receptive and enthusiastic to the changes so we are currently in the process of setting up an Employee Benefit Trust with an initial 20% holding of the company.

“The shares are being gifted by the current owners which is happening in conjunction with an investment by Capital for Colleagues.”

Sarah Deas, director at CDS, said: “Bright Ascension’s main priorities were to scale up the business by attracting investment and then fully engage their employees to drive performance within the business.

“Both of these goals have been achieved through employee ownership, which gives all nine staff members a meaningful stake in their company and its future success”

There are 80 employee-owned companies in Scotland, with approximately 6,500 employee-owners generating circa £900 million of turnover.