From The First $50K to $19M B Round : Unlocking the Next Era of Earth Information Through the Power of Small

Payam Banazadeh
Sep 26, 2018 · 4 min read

See official press release here: Capella Space Closes $19M Series B to Deliver Reliable Earth Observation Data on Demand

I incorporated Capella Space in March of 2016 after a deep study of space & information market at Stanford University. We were convinced that providing a reliable & frequent monitoring of our planet from space is game changing for many industries, and that our unique technology is a key enabler in rapid development and deployment of such capability (read here for why we started Capella). We had dreamed up of a design that would allow us to solve the biggest bottleneck in providing all weather monitoring services from space — the enormous size & cost of satellites that can image in all weather and light conditions. Our technological advancement would allow us to build a <40 kg satellite that transforms to a structure as big as the typical 1,000 kg imaging satellites after it launches in space (small on the ground, large in space). But before solving that problem we needed to figure out how to raise venture capital.

Capella’s <40 kg satellite in comparison to traditional 1000kg satellites

Building the satellites actually seemed relatively easy compared to the daunting task of raising venture capital; so in April of 2016 I reached out to Chris Boshuizen for help whom had founded a company I admired called Planet. It turned out that Chris had left Planet and was now an investor at Data Collective. Chris & Matthew Ocko from Data Collective loved the idea of Capella and quickly wrote the first check. In June of 2016 we closed a $200k angel round with Data Collective, AME, and Pear Ventures as investors. We were in business and we started building the very first prototype.

June 2016: After a trip to Fry’s electronics we got started with the basics

Four months later in September of 2016, we had the first prototype of the imaging system that we wanted to put in our satellites — remarkable progress in a very short (and stressful) time. And with that, we raised a $3M seed round from Data Collective & Canaan Partners. That round allowed us to recruit our friends from NASA and push the envelope of what everyone considered to be the state of art in satellites.

It was then that I met Nabeel Hyatt & John Melas-Kyriazi from Spark Capital, who became strong believers of our vision and approach in solving the monitoring problem from space. At this point, besides from having built a key enabling satellite technology we had also shown market traction with early customer engagements. Nabeel’s diligence and thoughtfulness attracted me immensely and he ultimately ended up leading our $12M series A round in April of 2017.

With fresh resources we accelerated our work with the goal of launching our first prototype satellite in December of 2017. We grew the team, and had the satellite all finished up before finding that SpaceX delayed our December 2017 launch to a later date. We took advantage of that time to re-design and work towards the next generation of our satellite, which turned out to be an important exercise.That first satellite that we built and didn’t launch is currently sitting on my table at the office as a piece of art/paperweight — a testament to well-meaning first attempts.

Fast forward to today: we have just finished building and testing the next generation of our satellite which is an unprecedented engineering feat. Our satellite, the size of a backpack on launch, combines an origami-like antenna that unfolds to 8 square meter (100 square feet) with radically efficient electronics that together deliver effectively the same imaging as the 1,000 kg radar satellites the size of a school bus, all packed into a <40 kg satellite. In addition to having built and tested this satellite, we have made tremendous market traction and built conviction around the use-cases and products with tens of millions of dollars of contracts in the book from eager customers across defense and commercial industries, with many more ready to go.

Last 2.5 years has been a difficult but exciting journey for me and my team. We had to overcome many obstacles that almost all frontier technology companies go through. Technical difficulties ranging from electronic failures, mechanical deployment difficulties, software compatibility issues, and business difficulties including a lot of vendor problems with delayed deliveries and quality control issues. But none of those broke us down, and if anything, we powered through them and came out stronger and more focused on the end goal. Our first test satellite is scheduled to launch on Nov 17th, 2018 with SpaceX and this one is truly a game changer.

Rendering of Capella’s first satellite

Nabeel, Chris, & Matt have been great supporters of Capella throughout all of this and have seen the remarkable progress that the team has made first-hand in front-row seats. It’s for that reason that Spark Capital & Data Collective are deepening their investments into Capella and co-leading our $19M series B round. I am excited to move to the next phase of Capella and start executing on our vision of providing transparency and information from space for all.

And if it wasn’t because of my team at Capella Space none of this would matter, and none of this would happen. I have 46 of the best minds working day & night on pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

More on our upcoming November launch soon: stay tuned for liftoff.

Payam Banazadeh

Written by

Entrepreneur, CEO @ Capella Space, and recently an amateur blogger of life and experiences.

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