Meagan Crawford | Space Entrepreneurship and the Challenges of Investing in Space Startups

Meagan Crawford is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of SpaceFund, a venture capital firm focusing on space startups. As one of the leading female voices in the space industry, she is an experienced entrepreneur, executive, and Chair of the Board of the nonprofit Center for Space Commerce and Finances.

In addition to co-founding the world’s longest-running space business plan competition, Meagan has taught, coached, and advised hundreds of space startups through their earliest stages. She is a leading advocate for women in space, and hosts the Mission Eve podcast.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Meagan Crawford, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of SpaceFund, to discuss space entrepreneurship and strategies for investing in space startups. Meagan talks about the challenges of investing in the space industry, success stories from the NewSpace Business Plan Competition, and explains how her work empowers women.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:35] What sparked Meagan Crawford’s fascination for space?
  • [04:25] How Meagan’s childhood environment shaped her dreams
  • [08:16] The challenges of investing in the space industry
  • [11:10] Meagan’s experience working at NASA — and helping launch the NewSpace Business Plan Competition
  • [16:18] The origins of SpaceFund, and the types of companies it invests in
  • [22:08] Meagan’s motivation for starting the Mission Eve podcast
  • [25:47] The peers Meagan acknowledges for their support

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40 

All right, welcome, everyone, John Corcoran here, the host of this show. For those of you who are new, this is gonna be a little bit different episode, because I have done a couple of different interviews, talking with people in the aerospace industry. It’s not the typical norm, but it’s one of the interests that I have. And so it’s a little bit different format. But there’s such exciting things that are happening in aerospace these days. I think you can’t help but be captivated by looking up to the skies and seeing these exciting things are happening, especially here in the United States, we had a really sad period of time between the end of the shuttle era and the beginning of the new private space era, I think was about 11 years or so where the United States had very little space activity happening. And we haven’t had much forward progress in terms of stretching the boundaries of space. And now it feels like it’s really happening. So I’m really excited to have my guest here today. She’s going to be talking about that. 

First, before I get to that, of course, this episode is brought to you by my company, Rise25, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn more about what we do at All right, my guest is Meagan Crawford. She’s Managing Partner of SpaceFund. It’s a venture capital firm. It focuses on investing in space startups. She’s Chair of the Board of the nonprofit Center for Space Commerce and Finances, has an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from Rice University, very esteemed University, and BBA management from the University of Houston. And she has a wealth of experience as an entrepreneur, and startup executive, and just really passionate about space in particular, helping more women to get to space. We’re gonna talk about some of the statistics, as the father of a daughter really troubling statistics of how on equitable it has been in the space industry and something that she’s working to rectify. So I want to really thank her for that. But Meagan, such a pleasure to have you here today. And first, tell us about how you first got interested in in space, what was it you know, something in your childhood that really kind of captivated you.

Meagan Crawford 2:44

Thank you for having me on John. And it’s as far back as I can remember, my mom will tell stories about two year old Meagan saying that she didn’t want the Barbie doll, she wanted the rocket ship in the toy section of the toy store. Right. So as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been captivated and fascinated by space, and by the potential of humans, you know, working and living in space. And, you know, it followed me through my whole life, I had this, this great life plan that I was gonna go, I come from a military family. So it seemed like the logical thing to do was to go to the Air Force Academy, become a fighter pilot, and then become the pilot of the space shuttle. And fortunately, unfortunately, I had a guidance counselor, who had the very sad job of informing me in high school that at that time, I’ll date myself here a little bit. Women could not be fighter pilots. So I had to pivot. And I went after my other strong interest, which was entrepreneurship, this idea of creating value out of nothing, right? And, and did my my educational pursuits in that. You mentioned my, my MBA from Rice University. I had another guidance counselor at Rice University, who really shook me back into my space, aspirations. And she said to me, she said, Meagan, getting a master’s in business, right? And aren’t there businesses that do things in space? What makes you think you have to give up your space dream just because you’re not a fighter pilot, right. And so that was that was kind of the beginning of my space career looking at it from a different perspective and saying, No, I don’t have to fly the shuttle, I can meaningfully contribute to this industry with the skill set that

John Corcoran 4:24

I have. Now, Rice University, of course, famously was the site of where John F Kennedy gave his speech saying that in 1961 or 62, saying that we are going to land a man on the moon within 10 years time by the end of this decade, not within 10 years by the end of the decade. What is it like for you growing up in that culture where that those types of big dreams are normal? They’re what neighbors this what people around you were doing.

Meagan Crawford 4:54

That’s exactly right. And space never seemed out of reach me growing up in Houston. In Space sitting, getting my degree a stone’s throw from where JFK gave that speech. It never seemed out of reach, it always seems like something very reasonable. And I know that, you know, other little girls growing up in other parts of the world don’t necessarily have that. I was very grateful that I grew up in a place where space was the norm, it was seen, it’s just a thing that a lot of my friends dads do, you went to work at Johnson Space Center. And that’s just, that was the way of the world. And I also was very fortunate to grow up in a family that encouraged me, even as a woman to do whatever it was that I was interested in. So I want to be sure as a part of my career and my legacy that I bring that opportunity to as many other little girls and boys around the world as

John Corcoran 5:44

possible. No, I mentioned in the intro, that there was a period of time where the United States started to phase out the shuttle. And, you know, Elon Musk has famously said that part of the reason he started SpaceX was because he felt that there wasn’t this forward momentum. You know, we sent people to the moon 50 years ago, and now we haven’t been back in 45 years or something like that. Did you ever get caught up in that? Or did was that ever something that you thought about, you know, that that there wasn’t much forward momentum? Now? Of course, there is. But when you made this choice to go into space, entrepreneurship 20 something years ago, it was not at all a hub of activity.

Meagan Crawford 6:28

No, it really wasn’t a thing. I started really diving into this industry, before Elon had ever had a successful launch. And so this idea that you could even be a space entrepreneur was still seen as as pretty outlandish, is pretty crazy, honestly. Yeah. And

John Corcoran 6:45

you must have gotten some pushback from family and friends during that period of time. You know,

Meagan Crawford 6:49

it depends on the family or or, you know, some of them were like, Yeah, that sounds like pagan. Festival, like so. You know? Yeah. Those were like, Yeah, you’re crazy. You have a family to support. Are you sure there’s money in this? You know? And so it turns out, yes, there is their husband, I’ve been able to support my family quite well, over the years. They believe that what really was the key for me, it was while I was still a student, while I was still getting my MBA, that same guidance counselor, I just mentioned, was able to get me a scholarship to attend my first space conference. And at that conference, I saw a gentleman speak who said a sentence to me, that struck a chord deep in my soul. That changed my life forever. And he said, he was talking about the fact that there is no not enough political will. There are not enough government budgets on the planet to really make humanity a spacefaring species. And so the only thing in the universe that’s powerful enough to lift humanity permanently off world is the power of free enterprise, there has to be an ROI. It has to be a return on investment if we really want to see a future of humans living and working in space. And I think that’s the thing that Elon caught on to that has really revolutionized the way we look at the space industry over the last couple of decades.

John Corcoran 8:16

Yeah. Now, one of the challenges with this industry in addition to well, many, many, many challenges, right? I mean, it’s extremely difficult. One of the hardest types of industries to succeed in, and a law I imagine a long period for any kind of return. So how do you invest in an industry where it could take years to develop this technology, even beyond other, you know, terrestrial industries, like cars or, or even airplanes or something like that space is at a whole nother nother level in terms of timeframes, you have to think about

Meagan Crawford 8:51

this was something that we did a lot of research on when we founded space spine, because that is the general thought process. Most people believe, especially as investors, space is too rich for my blood costs too much money to make it happen, and it takes too long. And so most venture capitalists have a seven to 10 year investment window. And the general thinking was that while these companies take 20 years to build and become profitable in the case of SpaceX, that was true, it took 20 years for them to reach profitability. So how do you fit that into a venture capital portfolio that needs returns in seven to 10 years? Well, I would say that building rockets is a bit of an outlier, as far as the the expense and time it takes to set one of these companies up. And there’s hundreds, if not 1000s, of other types of companies in the space industry. But when we were doing that initial research to prove to ourselves and eventually our investors that you could in fact, build a venture capital funds based on only investing in space. We assessed 50 different exits that have happened in In the previous several years of space companies that have gone from private companies to the public markets, which is exactly the sort of thing you want to see as a venture capital investor, and of those 50 companies, the average age at exit was seven years old. So you don’t necessarily have to get to that full operational excitement, the VC just needs to get you to an exit. And to prove that you could get to that exit. Well, within that seven to 10 year timeframe really changed our thinking about this, and the way that our investors were able to think about this as well, that these timeframes are very realistic for private market investors. And so we’re seeing a lot of developments in you know what I like to say that Silicon Valley move fast and break things mentality coming over into the space industry. And when you’re not dealing with a, you know, aerospace prime, Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop mentality, when you’re, when you’re using that Silicon Valley startup mentality, you can accomplish so much more, so much quicker and with so much less capital. And that’s the crux of the revolution that we’re seeing in what we call NewSpace right now.

John Corcoran 11:12

Now, famously, there’s a bit of a tension between that industry that you’re talking about and the traditionally more stodgy stoic governmental approach the NASA approach, you actually did a stint at NASA while you were getting your MBA Rice University. After having been such a big fan of space for so many years. What was it like for you to go to work there and to experience being inside of NASA for a stint?