Viasat’s Advanced Concepts team is focused on delivering game changing value to the business

Yasrine Ibnyahya, Senior Director, Advanced Concepts, explains how the team got started, why it’s important.

Advanced concepts team satellite render

By Shannon Smith, Vice President, Business Integration

You’ve probably heard of the film character “Q” who is in charge of all the innovations that give James Bond an edge in challenging times, but did you know that we have our own “Q branch” at Viasat? The team is called Advanced Concepts, and its job is to find opportunities to innovate within the space technology sector.

The team focuses on new technologies, new markets, and new business models. It is dedicated to fostering innovation and incubating new concepts through the delivery of quick pilot programs.

Yasrine Ibnyahya, Senior Director, Advanced Concepts
Yasrine Ibnyahya, Senior Director, Advanced Concepts

Disruptive innovation

The brainchild of Yasrine Ibnyahya, the original Advanced Concepts team was set up by legacy Inmarsat five years ago. Yasrine, with the support of her leadership, wanted to create a role in which she could conceptualize early-stage programs and shape viable and affordable options for breakthrough innovations, a topic she specialized in during her Executive MBA years in Cambridge Business School.

“As a company, we were good at incremental innovation and working towards more disruptive innovation,” she explains. “I had the chance of getting some executive sponsorship, our previous CTO Peter Hadinger, who was extremely supportive of my suggestion and that’s how Advanced Concepts came about. It started as a one-woman band for a while, but we soon grew to a team of five. As Viasat, we’ve expanded even further with wonderful teammates bringing their entrepreneurial spirit, something that is heavily embedded within Viasat’s DNA.”

Experimentation mindset

Advanced Concepts takes ideas and creates minimal viable products (MVPs) to test whether they can be brought to fruition to disrupt the market. Crucially, the team works hand in hand with customers from early on in each project.

Members of the team conduct their work like scientists by testing hypotheses and solving problems, while keeping a venture capitalist’s mindset managing a portfolio of initiatives while simultaneously raising internal and external funds.

An example of external funding would be when Viasat bids and wins on an opportunity to develop new technologies in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States or the European Space Agency (ESA) in Europe.

A combined team

Recently, four legacy Viasat colleagues from different parts of the business joined the Advanced Concepts team. As Yasrine says, “We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to create a team with one main purpose: disrupt ourselves before others do. We’re all problem solvers, analytical, curious, entrepreneurial, and excited to innovate, so everyone on the team has already gelled really well.”

Centers of excellence

The team has 5-10 initiatives running in parallel at any given time. As an example, they are currently focusing on how to leverage 5G technology and LEO satellites to provide communication directly to cell phones. More futuristic initiatives include exploring Lunar communication concepts and delivering new capabilities for the nascent, but growing, in-orbit services market with products like InRange for launchers’ telemetry and InCommand for LEO satellites’ tasking.

As part of its commitment to the UK government during the acquisition of Inmarsat, Viasat agreed to continue to invest in Research and Development (R&D) capabilities within the UK and to support the UK’s national space strategy by participating to the development of advanced space and communications technologies. The team is working on delivering these ambitions and positioning our headquarters in London as a space and technology innovation hub.

New ideas

Like Q in the James Bond movies, the Advanced Concepts team thrives on coming up with innovative solutions to big problems and seizing new opportunities that bring value to Viasat. Once they are confident the opportunity has true potential to generate revenues and is sufficiently de-risked from major challenges, they hand the project over to other teams that will focus on large-scale deployment. At that point, the concept follows the more established operating model Viasat uses for existing incremental innovations.

Collaboration is key and the team works closely with other parts of the business, especially the business areas, product teams, and system architecture groups. Collaboration is also external, with customers, partners, universities, research centers, and start-ups that are often new to Viasat.

“We do big picture thinking in Advanced Concepts and we’re always looking for new ways to innovate,” states Yasrine.

The team

Yasrine has worked in space engineering for over 18 years, she is also a passionate advocate for women in STEM and founded the Women at Inmarsat Network (WIN) which has now merged into the Viasat Women’s Alliance.

The rest of the team is composed of: Albert Morea, Jimmy Tran, JP Mediano, Marton Kiss-Toth, Nirmalkumar Velayudhan, Rami Adada, Rob Zienkewicz, Ular Kaldasaun, and subject matter experts across the business that are supporting the delivery of these exciting initiatives.

Viasat Connects

Want to receive the latest news and articles from Viasat?

Sign-up for our newsletter here.