Startup Aspirant Combines Business, Aerospace Engineering

June 10, 2015

Photo courtesy of Andrew Granatstein

As my fourth and final year of undergraduate studies fast approaches, I am becoming increasingly aware that attending college at the University of Arizona was the best decision I made during my first 20 years of life.

I came out of high school knowing exactly what I wanted to do after college and what I wanted to study, but my path toward those goals has constantly adapted. My goal has always been to start my own private space corporation and to make my mark on this world by taking humanity to other worlds. This point in history is the perfect time to do just that.

With creative minds like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — to name a few — innovative space companies are popping up all over the world and injecting momentum into the blossoming industry that is the private space sector. To join these titans in the industry, I need to gain a unique set of skills, both technical and business-related, in order to understand the ins-and-outs of space travel technologies and subsequently take these technologies to the international (and perhaps someday interplanetary) market.

This summer, I will be interning at Aztera, a Tucson-based technology development company. I will start building the unique skill sets of experiences and know-how that are necessary to succeed in the technology startup world.

But let me back up a few steps.

I grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, a unique town also known as the "Apple Capital of the World" because of its abundance of orchards and impact on the tree fruit industry. My free time was spent boating and kayaking on the beautiful lakes and rivers in the area, snowboarding in the mountains and over the ridges, and playing sports.

In high school, I discovered an affinity for math and physics, and I eventually fell in love with the concept of outer space, the final frontier. When searching for colleges, I made it a priority to apply to schools where I could escape the perennial gray winters while taking advantage of unique opportunities and a top-tier education to reach my goals.

The UA stole my heart as soon as I visited campus. Deciding to attend school out of state was a very easy decision with regards to personal growth, but also an extremely emotional decision with regards to leaving my home scenery, close friends and loving family.

I knew I wanted to major in aerospace engineering in the Honors College and I was pre-admitted to both when deciding to attend the UA on scholarship. During my freshman year, I quickly realized I wanted to continue taking post-required math classes, so I signed up for the minor in mathematics. Then, during my sophomore year, I further realized that I might not want to be an engineer for my entire career. I discovered that while I was studying aerospace engineering to garner the technical background necessary to launch a space company, I needed to supplement that with strong business acumen.

Luckily for me, the UA has one of the most prestigious entrepreneurship programs in the country in the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program. I was admitted for my junior year. Through the program, I went from zero business knowledge to being the general manager of my team's water monitoring and conservation company, H2knOw. I gained skills in management, financial modeling, marketing, writing a business plan, leadership and networking to go along with my "rocket science" background.

The program taught me the skills necessary for the next steps of my journey: interning at Aztera and working on my co-founded venture, H2knOw.

This summer, I will be working closely with other startup ventures that Aztera is managing and developing by helping to take new, proprietary technology to the market and using existing technology in original, innovative ways. I will get to work with technologies as diverse as unmanned aerial vehicles and solar energy, and in industries such as optics and digital marketing. I also will be pushing the product development of H2knOw's first viable product so that we can apply for patents and approach investors and potential customers.

During these next two months, I will get to share my experiences with you and hopefully serve up a hot plate of inspiration along the way.

Andrew Granatstein is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It's the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.