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UK Space Conference: Strong Appetite to Invest in New UK Space Businesses

By Caleb Henry | April 22, 2015
      London City Metropolis

      London, U.K. Photo: (Flickr)

      [Via Satellite 04-22-2015] At the Satellite Finance Network Annual Conference in London, speakers were buoyant about the state of the space industry in the United Kingdom, and even an upcoming election — the outcome of which remains to be discovered — failed to dampen the mood. Simon Acland, CIO of Imprimatur Capital and an experienced investor in the satellite technology arena, summed it up best by saying there is a real excitement from investors to put fresh capital in new space-based initiatives.

      The United Kingdom has some ambitious growth targets over the next few years. It wants to have 10 percent of the global space market by 2030, and almost quadruple its revenues from 11 billion pounds ($16.4 billion) in 2014 to 40 billion pounds ($59.6 billion) in around 15 years.

      However, many of the panelists admitted there were significant differences between the space industry in the United Kingdom and that of the United States. “We are more risk averse than our U.S. colleagues. We don’t have as many billionaires as the United States does,” Richard Brook, co-founder of E-Synergy, said. “When you are investing someone else’s money, you are more risk averse. It makes it a more thorough process. You have got to find companies with growth ambitions. We get an awful lot of Internet businesses proposing to us. Investors will get more restless the more they are in a business. They are looking for ways to exit. There is a bit of an aversion in the United Kingdom to putting a large amount of money in [a new business].”

      It also seems as though there is a gap in where U.K. space start-ups can gain funding. Mark Boggett, managing director at Seraphim Capital, highlighted the fact that there is a huge shortage of Venture Capital (VC) financing at the development stage. He said that while there is a decent supply of funding at the seed level for new U.K. space start-up companies, as well as strong growth capital for profitable businesses, it is the part in-between where there is a problem. Boggett claimed companies that are looking for funding in the 2 to 10 million pounds ($2.9 million to $14.9 million) range are likely to encounter more difficulties. Still, Stephen Ainsworth, relationship director at Barclays, agreed it was a very dynamic market right now.

      “What we are looking for when we invest in a new business is a resilient business model. There is a bit of a mindset change. … We are looking at a growth story, but we have to be convinced we will hit it,” he said. “It has been a really busy time lately. The pricing [of borrowing] is significantly lower than it was a year ago. “

      As the U.K reaches for its new space industry goals, it is proving to be an attractive country for novel space businesses to take hold. One such company is Spire, a U.S. remote sensing startup that recently opened an office in Glasgow. In terms of why it decided to set-up an office in the United Kingdom, Theresa Condor, VP of corporate development at Spire, said the company evaluated a lot of things before making the decision and looked at a number of locations.

      “We had to look at access to good people. We also looked at things like access to finance. There are a number of startups here, so there is enough of an ecosystem to make this attractive. We didn’t find that in as [as many other] places as we did in the United Kingdom,” she said.

      Condor believes there is a huge opportunity for companies such as Spire, which plans on launching a constellation of remote sensing satellites this year.

      “There are hundreds of thousands of ships transporting trillions of dollars of goods,” she added. “They lose billions of dollars each year through bad weather monitoring, for example. We will need to have more data to address these problems.”

      A company such as Spire, which has already achieved $25 million in funding from investors all over the world, could fill this gap and provide solutions to different types of transportation companies. Its presence in the United Kingdom is further evidence of the country’s attractiveness to new space businesses.