Meet Usman Iftikhar, a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur on a mission to democratise space to drive sustainable development.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the world watched on their grainy televisions, captivated, as he took his first weightless steps on the lunar surface.

Fifty years later, the space industry has entered a new era where billionaires are launching their own programs, designing reusable rockets for space travel. Meanwhile, researchers and hobbyists are building small modular satellites from off-the-shelf components, revolutionising space research.

But not everyone is afforded the same dream or opportunities to venture into space.

“In a lot of countries like Pakistan, that’s not even a dream you can have because the space industry has never been accessible,” says mechanical engineer and UOW alumnus, Usman Iftikhar, who grew up in Pakistan and now lives in Australia.

Iftikhar wants to make the space industry more accessible to people around the world. His vision for the future is one where people in emerging economies can share in the benefits of space technology and exploration.

It’s a vision that started with the insights that Iftikhar gained into business and entrepreneurship while studying his Masters of Engineering Management at UOW.

During his Master’s degree in 2013, Iftikhar seized the opportunity to participate in a workplace learning program developed by UOW with industry partners, UniVative, where he developed and pitched a business plan for project in Sutherland Shire Council to improve community engagement.

But after finishing his studies at UOW, Iftikhar struggled to find employment, an experience which he says is common amongst international students and immigrants to Australia. They may be overqualified and often have language or cultural barriers to overcome, he explains. “I was one of those people. I found it really difficult.”

The Masters graduate wanted to start his own business and he knew others would too. So, he participated in a social enterprise incubator program in Parramatta, run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs, and launched his own social enterprise called Catalysr.

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