Space Nation hires firm led by former Apple marketing chief

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SAN FRANCISCO — Space Nation, the Finnish startup developing an astronaut training smartphone application, announced plans Sept. 19 to join forces with West, the San Francisco-based “venture studio” founded by Allison Johnson, Apple’s former vice president for marketing and communications.

“Allison worked directly with Steve Jobs at Apple where she helped launch some of the most iconic products of our time,” Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, Space Nation chief executive, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to utilizing that expertise to bring space one step closer to everyone’s daily life.”

West will be responsible for designing and executing the February rollout of Space Nation’s Astronaut Program. West calls itself a “venture studio” rather than a marketing or branding agency because it focuses on helping fledgling companies develop their “foundational strategy,” design and execute that strategy, Patrick Dowd, West market innovation lead, said by email. When West works with a startup, it typically plays the role of an interim chief marketing officer, “taking responsibility for driving growth and in certain cases investing in the companies,” Dowd added.

“I was one of those kids who dreamed of becoming an astronaut but felt like it was totally out of reach without a degree in astrophysics and the physical and mental training of an extreme athlete,” Allison Johnson, West managing Partner, said in the statement. “It turns out none of that is true. We want to ensure anyone even slightly interested in space has the chance to participate.”

Space Nation will need effective marketing to draw in global audiences, Vähä-Jaakkola said by email. “The fan experiences will begin when you first hear about or see Space Nation,” he said. “The next steps you take as a consumer will be part of the experience.”  

In August, Space Nation signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA that gives the startup access to the space agency’s technical expertise as well as records, imagery and video for the Space Nation application.

Space Nation plans to release its smartphone application in February. The application is designed to spark global interest and participation in space through games, challenges, a documentary video series and a competition aimed at selecting a citizen astronaut to travel on a commercial suborbital flight.