When nine U.K. space industry entrepreneurs traveled to Texas and Utah last year to attend space conferences as part of a government-backed trade mission, they also met with U.S. investors who are becoming increasingly interested in the commercial space sector.
While the United Kingdom is going to great lengths to help nascent space companies flesh out their ideas and develop business plans, the U.K. lacks the volume of risk capital available to U.S. entrepreneurs. London-based Seraphim Capital plans to launch an 83-million-Britishpound ($118 million) space-focused venture capital fund in 2016.
“That is a small step in the right direction,” said Sam Adlen, business innovation head for the Satellite Applications Catapult, a government-backed company that encourages economic growth. “There is just a lot more money in the U.S. If you are looking for investors willing to back a vision, back a management team and take a risk on the order of tens or hundreds of millions of British pounds, then the things being achieved in the U.S. are fairly phenomenal compared to what people in the U.K. and Europe can achieve.”
“If you give guys a lot of money, you get lazy designs. Less funding makes people innovate and teaches them to solve problems quickly.”
– Mike Lawton
Fortunately for British entrepreneurs, U.S. venture capitalists are eager to find promising business plans no matter where they originate. “British companies can always go to the U.S. to fish in the pond,” Adlen said. “A number of companies have been successful in that regard.”
One of those is Gyana, a 12-person startup based in Oxford that uses artificial intelligence to gather information from satellite data. Gyana was established in 2015 with 70,000 British pounds in seed funding. In 2015, Joyeeta Das, Gyana founder and chief executive, participated in two InnovateUK missions, traveling to the University of Utah’s Small Satellite conference in August and to Houston in November for the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition. On each of the trips, Das met with angel investors, venture capitalists and potential collaborators. By early December, Gyana had raised 1.5 million British pounds from European and U.S. investors.
Oxford Space Systems raised 1.3 million British pounds in an investment round concluded in August and led by Longwall Venture Partners of Harwell with funding from IQ Capital Partners of Cambridge, England; San Francisco based Wren Capital; and Midven of Birmingham, England. Oxford Space Systems declined to accept an additional $1 million investment because Lawton prefers to keep the company lean.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Lawton said. “If you give guys a lot of money, you get lazy designs. Less funding makes people innovate and teaches them to solve problems quickly.”