i3 | November 05, 2021

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Chairwoman, President and Owner Eren Ozmen

Cindy Loffler Stevens
Chairwoman, President and Owner Eren Ozmen

Chairwoman, President and Owner Eren Ozmen

Eren Ozmen

How her cutting-edge technology and quiet competence is making commerce in space a reality

Eren Ozmen has one of the most inspiring, entrepreneurial stories ever. She has transformed from a student with no financial resources to billionaire co-owner of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). She is chairwoman, president and owner of SNC, the global aerospace and national security leader based in Sparks, NV. As sole owners of SNC since 1994, Eren and her husband, Fatih Ozmen, who is SNC’s CEO, are the driving force behind SNC’s incredible journey from small high-tech startup to multi-billion-dollar global leader in space, aviation, national security and defense.

Turkish immigrants, the Ozmens came to America separately for graduate school in the 1980s. They acquired SNC, the small defense company where they both worked, in 1994 when the company had only 20 employees. The company grew to become the top woman-owned U.S. government contractor. Involved in all aspects of SNC’s business management, Eren has overseen 20 strategic acquisitions.

The Ozmens are among a wave of wealthy entrepreneurs involved in space endeavors. From Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Larry Pages’ Planetary Resources, Mark Cuban’s Relativity Space to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, with whom Sierra Space, SNC subsidiary, is partnering.

In April 2021, they launched Sierra Space, an independent commercial space company. Its “space-as-a-service” business model will leverage cutting-edge technologies, such as Dream Chaser® spaceplanes and expandable LIFE™ habitats. The space economy is forecast to soar to $1.4 trillion by 2030. SNC has participated in over 500 missions to space, including 14 missions to Mars.

Eren’s vision for making a positive impact extends beyond the walls of her companies. Through the Ozmen Foundation, she supports a variety of causes including STEM initiatives and cancer-related medical research. She also founded the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship and the Ozmen Institute for Global Studies at her alma mater, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). She also received an honorary doctorate degree from UNR in 2016. In June 2021, Eren was included in the inaugural Forbes “50 Over 50” list among many other honors she and Fatih have earned. She recently discussed space tech with i3 including plans for CES 2022.

Q You have an incredible success story. Can you talk about your journey and lessons learned?

A I am incredibly grateful to be living my own American Dream with my husband and business partner, Fatih. I came to America from Turkey on my own with only a backpack when I was 22 to pursue my MBA. I had no financial resources and barely spoke English. I worked part time and earned a graduate assistantship to pay for my tuition.

Fatih finished graduate school in the States and started as an engineering intern at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), landing a permanent job as an engineer. We became good friends and later we got married. I joined SNC as a consultant to automate SNC’s financial system when SNC was struggling. As a result of my financial advice, I was offered a role as the company’s first controller.

In 1994, Fatih and I had the opportunity to acquire SNC. It was a small company with only a handful of employees. With my business acumen and Fatih’s engineering know-how, we won our first major contract and then the next, slowly earning the trust of our customers by focusing on agility, affordability and performance. Once we strengthened the company’s finances, we started taking calculated risks that paid off, pushing the envelope with cutting-edge technologies and building an extremely talented workforce.

We’ve grown SNC through persistence and strategic acquisitions. Our growth strategy is to identify opportunities with a multiplier effect, where 1 + 1 = 11. We’re proud to have created a company culture rooted in innovation. SNC grew from a modest small business with 20 employees into an award-winning, multi-billion-dollar global leader in aerospace and national security. We are proud to employ more than 5,000 people in 20 states and three countries.

The growth of SNC is a personal story for Fatih and me, as much as a source of professional pride. When we serve our military or NASA, we are very cognizant that this is our way of giving back to the country that gave us our start.

Q Can you tell us about Dream Chaser and the LIFE Habitat?

A The Dream Chaser® spacecraft is the world’s only commercial spaceplane. It’s a true game changer, combining green technology and the ability to land on a commercial runway.

Starting at the end of 2022, we are contracted to fly seven cargo missions for NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Our return will mark the first runway landing of a commercial spaceplane since the last NASA shuttle mission, which ended in 2011. Its cutting-edge design allows every spaceplane to be reused up to 15 times. In a few short years, we envision a fleet of Dream Chaser spaceplanes flying cargo and passengers to space and landing on runways across the globe.

Our LIFE™ Habitat is made of an extremely durable, Kevlar-like material that expands on-orbit to become a large, three-story structure where people can live and work. The LIFE habitat launches off a conventional rocket and can be positioned in low-Earth orbit, on or orbiting the moon, or even on Mars.

Extremely versatile, LIFE habitats can be used for space manufacturing, microgravity research, space tourism or any other commercial activity. The habitats also have separate living and exercise quarters — we’ve even developed an Astro Garden to provide occupants with fresh food. Vegetables are growing right now on the ISS because of our advanced plant growth system! We truly believe the LIFE habitat will prove critical to getting more people living comfortably and innovating in space.

Q What sets SNC apart from its competitors?

A SNC primarily serves the national security and defense interests of the U.S. We provide critical life-saving technology like our Enhanced Vision System (EVS) that enables pilots to see through dust and fog, and IED (improvised explosive device) jammers that keep our warfighters safe.

We launched Sierra Space from the space capabilities within SNC earlier this year to build on these accomplishments in the rapidly expanding commercial space market. While the space market is highly attractive, there are very high barriers to entry. We believe that Sierra Space has the right team, the capabilities that the market needs, and a proven 30+ year track record with existing trusted partnerships to meet these demands much faster than new entrants.

Q Can you share more about Orbital Reef and your partnership with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin?

A Sierra Space and Blue Origin are principal partners on Orbital Reef and we are very excited to join forces with Jeff Bezos to bring this visionary commercial space station to life. By the end of this decade, Orbital Reef will be the premier space station in low-Earth orbit for commerce, research and tourism. Think of it as a space business park. This orbital destination will be commercially developed, owned and operated. It will bring space within reach for business and travel, creating a new ecosystem.

Our Dream Chaser will provide the transportation, and our LIFE modules will provide the destination on Orbital Reef. Sierra Space will also provide a node that will be used for a variety of exploration and logistics functions on the station, including docking ports to connect visiting vehicles and spacecraft. These elements will make the Orbital Reef accessible and flexible so more people, science and businesses can benefit. Sierra Space and Blue Origin are committed to a long-term vision and equal partnership for low-Earth orbit beyond the Orbital Reef.

Q SNC has a reputation for disruptive innovation. What developments are you most excited about?

A Fatih and I have always focused on how we can make a global impact. Technological innovations we make today have lasting impacts on generations to come. We have three major corporations that are fueling breakthrough technologies that will impact humanity.

As an independent commercial space company, Sierra Space is building a vibrant LEO (low-Earth orbit) space ecosystem accessible to all by providing transportation, destinations and space applications. Orbital Reef, for example, will be humanity’s footprint in low-Earth orbit as we reach beyond the surface of the planet.

SNC works with our DOD customers to transform the way we protect the freedom of our people using advanced technologies. For example, SNC TRAX® software is a military communications system that connects otherwise incompatible systems and networks. And our SKL enables safe and secure communications for those who operate in some of the most dangerous situations in the field.

With SNC’s subsidiary Deutsche Aircraft, we are paving the way toward zero emissions flights within the next 10-15 years, well ahead of international guidelines. The 328eco™ aircraft combines today’s advanced technology with Dornier’s proven heritage, and in partnership with the German government, will bring a more environmentally friendly aircraft to the market for true sustainable global impact.

Q What are your plans for CES?

A We are thrilled to come to CES to display a full-scale Dream Chaser model. This is our first year at CES and we are eager to showcase our vision to build and support a bustling low-Earth orbit economy. We think our Dream Chaser and other space technology will fit right in alongside the other breakthrough technology and global innovators at CES. Fatih and I are hopeful you will join us as we share more about our story and future plans for space as part of the Great Minds fireside chat series. 

Q What are the most disruptive tech trends impacting the space industry?

A One of the biggest trends affecting the space industry is a new form of public-private partnership. NASA is looking to companies like Sierra Space to expand its space initiatives, including support for the ISS. We are also seeing innovative strategic partnerships that bring companies together to accelerate growth in space. Sierra Space and Blue Origin are working together to develop Orbital Reef, a commercial space station that will transform human space travel and open access to new markets. This is a perfect example of the power that comes from bringing together companies with complementary capabilities and an aligned vision. 

This is our first year at CES and we are eager to showcase our vision to build and support a bustling low-Earth orbit economy.
i3 magazine November/December 2021 cover

Subscribe to i3

I3, the flagship magazine from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, focuses on innovation in technology, policy and business as well as the entrepreneurs, industry leaders and startups that grow the consumer technology industry. Subscriptions to i3 are available free to qualified participants in the consumer electronics industry.