Insight meets Donna Lyndsay from the European Space Agency

Donna Lyndsay is the Ambassador for the European Space Agency (ESA) for South West England and South Wales. Donna is tasked with raising awareness of ESA Business Applications funding, particularly among SMEs and aiming to increase the number of South West firms using space technology and science. This includes location, navigation and timing services to satellite communications, earth observation (analysing the earth from space) and human space flight.


Insight met Donna to find out more about the ESA’s work in Exeter and her role.

The South West programme, funded by ESA and hosted by Exeter University, aims to directly engage ESA with at least 12 Businesses, helping them utilise the wealth of information generated by space technology.  Donna joined ESA in September 2018 and set herself the task of creating a pipeline of companies in the South West and South Wales that are developing and providing new services using space technologies and who are, or will be, funded by ESA within 12 months.

Donna said: “My key priority is to raise awareness of the funding available to SMEs, through a variety of routes – connecting and contacting businesses I already know work in these fields, arranging one on one meetings, developing a digital and social media campaign to reach relevant companies and utilising relevant networks and events like ExIST.  We will also be running a launch event to discuss the funding and support available, which will give additional insight into real world services being delivered commercially today.”

It is important to the success of the project that those companies who are considering new services get real value from Donna’s support.  Donna will help business leaders find and connect with the right partners to support their ideas and innovations with specialist knowledge or delivery capacity.

“The real joy of the work is when you spot a need and can deliver the necessary support required.”


Through enabling companies to develop world leading services using ground breaking technologies, the ESA aims to stimulate and encourage commercial activity and create the ability to market these new services globally, helping to put Exeter on the map in this growing sector. The project will also enable the development of essential technical skills and commercial infrastructure to attract more companies to the area.

Donna said: “Exeter is central to the region I cover, and has all the infrastructure, research and fantastic supporting institutions. The Science Park where I am based, also supports many SME’s who should look at our funding programme. Selfishly, as I live on Exmoor it’s a great location for me to be based in – and I think lifestyle will be an important part of the mix for others coming into the area to work in science and tech too.”

On a personal level, Donna is keen to encourage more people into STEMM.  She said: “I’ve always been passionate about ensuring young people, particularly in our rural areas on Exmoor, have opportunities in understanding why Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) are important. As they will be entering a world where jobs will be so different to those around today, they need to develop flexible and problem-solving skill sets.”

To support this ambition Donna has helped local rural schools in accessing funding for robotics, science and technology through working with the Ogden Trust and, with Somerset County Council support, she established a Lab for 10 local primary schools to access, enabling the children to access STEM and university led teaching support. “The Strand Beast is a good example of beautiful design, that bridges art and engineering, can be translated to space - NASA are looking at how to use similar designs for robots on Mars. Through working with schools it’s clear that we can quickly lose children, and girls in particular, from these subjects by not portraying how relevant and exciting STEAM can be. It’s not that the interest doesn’t exist – you only need to look at how many children, girls in particular, love making slime!”

Donna started her own career as a cartographer at Exmoor National Park.  It was while creating their Geographical Information System (GIS) that she uncovered some original remote sensing research undertaken by the previous National Park Officer, Dr Len Curtis.  She said: “I was hooked straight away! I’ve been working in the geospatial and remote sensing Industry for over 25 years now, most recently I was a founding director of EarthSense, a leader in accurate air quality monitoring, modelling and data. The company’s solutions help decision makers understand the health and environmental impact of poor air quality across the planet through a combination of space and terrestrial technologies.”

It was in this role that Donna was named a finalist of Innovate UK’s Women In Innovation awards.  The awards were launched when research undertaken in 2016 found that just 14% of applicants to Innovate UK funding competitions were from women, despite the fact that success rates between men and women were largely equal.  Donna was chosen by Innovate UK to represent the UK leading female innovators in the Innovate UK and Getty Exhibition.  As a result of the awards campaign, applications from women to Innovate UK’s funding rose to 24% and the competition has run again this year.

Donna said “I would really recommend any women who want to get their innovation funded to apply to the next call. It is much more than just funding, the support and networking they can provide is worth more than the £50,000 award, although money is helpful to aid business development of course!”

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