Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Thomas d’Halluin, Managing Partner at Airbus Ventures, and with Daniel Ceperley, Founder and CEO of LeoLabs, an Airbus Ventures portfolio company. Learn about their partnership in the Q&A below!
Airbus Ventures: Thomas d’Halluin
Give us some background on Airbus Ventures: How did the firm start, what is your mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?
Headquartered in Menlo Park, California, Airbus Ventures is a fast-moving, early-to-growth-stage venture capital firm that independently funds and supports startups impacting the aerospace industry. Born as the autonomous venture arm of aerospace industry leader Airbus SE, Airbus Ventures recognizes that new and fast-accelerating technologies reshaping aerospace require newly inspired, ever-curious innovators and entrepreneurs that are untiring in their pursuit of excellence.
From its earliest days, Airbus Ventures has embraced the heritage of its mothership Airbus. Building on this rich foundation, the firm recently announced its latest fund, Airbus Ventures Fund III, fostering a network of partners embarking on a joint mission to accelerate humanity’s ascent to deep space, while striving to protect and preserve the planet. Since 2020, the Development Bank of Japan Inc. (DBJ), Mitsubishi UFJ Lease & Finance Company Limited (Mitsubishi UFJ Lease), and Fuyo General Lease Co., Ltd. (FGL) have invested in Fund III, together with US and EU investors. The team continues to grow this list of venture stakeholders.
What does Airbus Ventures look for in a partner when choosing to invest in a portfolio company? What does Airbus Ventures value? What do you especially value in the LeoLabs team?
Airbus Ventures’ investment scope includes, but is not limited to, technologies in autonomous mobility, electrification, next-generation computing, and advanced materials, reflecting the widening range of critical technologies and new players impacting aerospace’s competitive landscape.
Perhaps most significantly, a critical tenet of the Airbus Ventures purview is prioritizing our home planet’s global health. It’s been especially rewarding to invest in founders and entrepreneurs, like Daniel Ceperley’s team at LeoLabs, working internationally to protect Earth, mitigating the serious, imminent risks of space debris collisions, and making Earth orbital space safer for the 1000s of satellites needed to bring effective communications and climate change mitigations to the whole of the planet. LeoLabs was recently named to Fast Company’s Annual List of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for 2021, and I expect many more honours to make their way to them.
How does Airbus Ventures support its portfolio companies? How does it help entrepreneurs grow and advance the VC industry?
With portfolio companies now representing all elements of the Airbus Ventures investment thesis – from autonomous transportation systems and electrification to deep space capabilities and artificial intelligence and robotic interfaces extending human reach – the fund actively and successfully teams with the companies in its orbit to help accelerate each other’s businesses, all the while strengthening our own knowledge of the gaps in the system, from the x-y plane of the ground right up the vertical axis into Z-space.
Airbus Ventures also maintains close relationships with other leading venture firms, mainly located in Silicon Valley; and proudly offers proactive value-adding activities for its portfolio companies, leveraging the dense networks of the Airbus mothership and its supply chain.
LeoLabs: Daniel Ceperley, Founder & CEO
What is the mission of your company and how did you start?
LeoLabs protects the new space revolution and the space environment. Several members of our founding team started as researchers studying the Aurora Borealis. They designed and built large radars to study the ionosphere – however they had a problem. Satellites and space debris would frequently fly through the region of space they were monitoring, corrupting their data. So they wrote software to automatically identify, and discard, the satellite and space debris data. We turned this capability on its head to create a system for managing space traffic and launched LeoLabs in the process. We now operate a worldwide network of radars and a cloud-based software platform to track satellites and space debris.
Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next 5 years?
The number of customers we serve is growing rapidly. For example, we recently supported the SpaceX Transporter-1 launch which carried a record-setting 143 satellites into space. Our radars picked up the satellites only hours after launch.
Our radar network is growing at an accelerated rhythm, as well. Our fourth radar site, located in Costa Rica, will be completed soon. We have eyes on the next two sites after that, and they will be completed within a year.
Our information services are evolving quickly. We recently launched our Collision Avoidance service, and it won Forbes’ Best Product Award. We continue to add new layers of analytics on top of our data stream to automatically identify risky situations and alert subscribers immediately.
What problem is your company trying to solve?
There is a data deficit in space. The number of active satellites is going from 2,000 today to 50,000+ in the next 5 years. The increase that has already happened has broken the legacy tracking systems. Satellite operators, licensing authorities, defense agencies, and insurance underwriters do not have the information they need to safely and effectively operate in space. LeoLabs solves this problem by delivering the always-on, global information service about satellite activities that the world needs.
How has Airbus Ventures impacted your company’s future for the better?
Airbus Ventures was one of the first investors to grasp the importance of our mission. In addition, their endorsement of our technology and business plan drove excitement about LeoLabs across the investor community and gave them confidence in our ability to deliver high-quality technical solutions. Airbus Ventures continues to connect us across the space market globally.