Venture capitalists have historically avoided investing in aerospace start-ups. That’s because developing space technologies like rockets or satellites costs a great deal, and it can take a long time to reel in customers, especially if a start-up is seeking government contracts.
That’s where space angel Ellen Chang comes in. The veteran aerospace engineer created LightSpeed Innovations in the summer of 2015 as an accelerator like Y Combinator or TechStars, but just for aerospace startups. Her aim is to help space startups find ways to make money, even before their technology is ready for big-time customers.
It’s no longer necessary to launch a multi-million dollar rocket to have a viable space-tech start-up. Demand for space-related technology has ramped up beyond NASA and the Defense Department.
According to the Director of Research at the nonprofit Space Foundation, Micah Walter-Range, aerospace technologies like GPS and nano-satellite constellations are being used in areas such as ride-hailing, navigation apps and business services that monitor things like crop growth on farms or factory emissions.
Venture investors have begun to place bets in so-called “new space” startups, with $1.49 billion in funding going to aerospace companies in 2016 across 49 deals according to CB Insights, and 25 venture deals in this sector so far in 2017.
Lightspeed aims to help these start-ups by creating a network of early-stage mentors, investors and accelerators — the type that peers who make mobile apps or hardware would take for granted.
But a typical tech accelerator like Y Combinator doesn’t necessarily work for these kinds of founders.
“Astro-preneurs tend to be older. They get advanced degrees, have some industry experience and are ready to go out on their own. But they also have families and can’t relocate then eat only ramen,” she said.