The space economy has many professionals with science and engineering backgrounds. But it also has opportunities for people with different experiences. We spoke to Julie Bonner, the Director of Communications for FreeFall Aerospace, an Arizona-based antenna technology firm. She explains her background as a creative and how she pivoted into the space sector.
What was your background before working for FreeFall Aerospace?
I’m definitely not the typical person you’d assume works for a space-focused company. FreeFall is developing intelligent antenna systems for space and ground. I’m the Director of Communications and have handled business development, brand strategy, public relations, and creative design for the past three years. This small startup comprises engineers with the leadership of our CEO Doug Stetson, who worked for JPL NASA for over 25 years. I am not an engineer. Instead, I come from a very creative and entrepreneurial background.
I grew up in New York and was an artistic child from the beginning. I drew on any paper within reach and crafted handmade greeting cards for every occasion. My middle school still proudly displays a mural we painted as students. I did my first freelance logo project for a local pizza shop while in high school.
After earning my degree in graphic design from Drexel University and working as an art director, I chose to go back to school at night to earn my MBA. Then, I opened Julie Originals, my creative studio specializing in branding, design, and marketing. After working for many years and helping others grow their products, I created my own! I made the Addy Award-Winning Desert Dwellers Flash Cards by blending my fine art paintings with my commercial design expertise. I was inspired to teach my son about Southwest wildlife. Each card contains amusing stories about desert animals from A to Z and features my acrylic paintings. Local teachers, parents, and grandparents use them to promote literacy and teach children about their environment.
After ten years of running my design business, I was introduced to FreeFall Aerospace by Tech Launch Arizona. FreeFall’s technology was invented by Dr. Chris Walker, who is a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona (UA). FreeFall went through the Tech Launch Arizona process, which is an incubator for UA startups. FreeFall had an out-of-state conference coming up. They wanted to look as professional and innovative as their technology. I designed a new brand identity and marketing collateral and also connected the company to local vendors. Due to the success of that process, the CEO offered me a full-time position to work as the Director of Communications!
How have you applied your non-technical skill set towards working in the space sector?
As an artist and graphic designer, I create a brand that reflects professionalism, quality, and innovation to align with FreeFall’s antenna technology. I use these visuals online and in printed collateral. This is very important when we are at space conferences and for our website to reflect our development milestones.
I love talking with people who are experts and learning about new technology. I apply my skills of connecting with people and asking a lot of questions. It’s really helped me learn quickly about some very complex subjects. My communications skills have helped me develop simple messaging about our complex technology for wider audiences.
To build brand awareness and partnerships within the space sector, I use my networking skills on behalf of FreeFall. Now I’m the Chair of the Arizona Technology Council’s Women in the Workforce. This leadership position allows me to create educational programming and grow connections with other women in technology.
What advice do you have for people without STEM backgrounds who want to work in the space sector?
Space is for everyone, and I recommend getting involved. I’ve gained many connections from being active in statewide organizations like the Arizona Technology Council and attending international conferences like SpaceCom and the Space Symposium.
I’m delighted to help engage with local youth and introduce them to the space sector. Recently both Doug and I gave webinars during SheTech Arizona. Female high school students attended this virtual event to learn more about careers in the STEM fields. They were really engaged and loved learning about reaching for the stars – literally.
I would also suggest following space news and content, like Filling Space. There’s so much going on, and it’s exhilarating. Check out podcasts like Casual Space with Beth Mund. I also follow many space companies on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay updated.
Most importantly, know that you can bring another perspective to a technically saturated field. Diversity is needed for innovation. Your time to launch into the space sector is…3, 2, 1…now!