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

Meagan Crawford 11:39

Yeah, those those folks don’t really like us, like us using the term NewSpace, because then that implies they’re old space, and nobody likes to be called Old. But yeah, coming into NASA, I had such high hopes and dreams, I was so excited about this possibility to work at the tech transfer office at NASA. It was everything I loved. It was entrepreneurship. Yeah, I’ll be going out into the private sector. But it was coming from NASA and I was working at NASA. And with absolutely no offense meant to my many, many good friends who work at all levels of NASA, I was highly disappointed. I told my colleagues in the MBA program at the time that I don’t like going to work for the DMV, it took me two weeks to get a computer password. It took me a whole week to get a badge to even get into the building. But because it’s a government agency. Now, the work itself was very fulfilling and very exciting. But it was really hard for me as an entrepreneur coming out of an MBA program to deal with that level of bureaucracy that I just wasn’t used to, in the private sector. And in NASA’s defense, they have gotten a lot better about that over the years as my understanding, I haven’t worked there in some time. But I did really love the connections that I made there, the people were amazing. And learning kind of as they like to say how the sausage is made from on the inside.

John Corcoran 13:04

So not long after that, you end up helping or to begin the NewSpace Business Plan Competition in 2009. Tell us about that.

Meagan Crawford 13:15

And that was inspired by this idea that these space entrepreneurs, were brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and sometimes rocket scientist or PhD engineers. They weren’t able to find the funding that they need it. And part of it was because investors weren’t really looking at the space industry as a funding source, a source for funding because of all the reasons we just discussed. But a big part of it was that these brilliant entrepreneurs didn’t understand the way to speak to investors, they didn’t understand the language of finance and investing. And so the purpose of the business plan competition was twofold. First, we put them through a bootcamp and we help them redo their deck, we help them learn what investors are looking for. We help them learn how to speak that language. And then we put them up on stage in a room full of investors and hopefully help get them some funding, aside from the prize money that that we put into, to kind of grease the wheels. And that was the purpose of it. And it’s been highly successful. We just had I believe it was our 21st or 22nd business plan competition in Paris a couple of months ago. Yeah, it was 21 in Paris, in October, and we had our 22nd, one in Austin in November. So we’re cranking these out a couple times a year. I’m not involved in the day to day anymore. Shout out to Tom Olson, who’s running that organization now and in a fantastic way. And we’ve had hundreds of entrepreneurs come through the program over the course of those 22 different business plan competitions all over the

John Corcoran 14:52

world. What had been some of the more interesting or memorable plan business plans that have come through

Meagan Crawford 14:58

or entrepreneurs, there’s, you know, there’s been some definitely some interesting ones. I think one of our great success stories is a company called Altius Space Machines that was recently acquired by Voyager, a space holding company. And as I mentioned earlier, as, as investors, we’re looking for that all important exit, right? It doesn’t matter how much the value of the company increases, if you can’t take that value out. And so Altius went from a very small startup, I think it was just the co founder and one other, you know, the founder and one other person that came to the business plan competition with us. And then just a couple of years, I believe, five or six years, they went from winning the business plan competition to building an excellent business and having a very successful exit. And so that’s, that’s, that’s a really fun one. Another one that’s interesting to mention is a group called Spire Global, out of Scotland in the UK, they’re gearing up for in the next year or two, the first launch of their a rocket from UK soil ever. And so seeing the United Kingdom be able to kind of play in the space game that, you know, using a commercial partnership, as opposed to developing that capability and house the way the United States, China and Russia. That was a really fascinating one to watch as well.

John Corcoran 16:19

Huh? Yeah. So tell me about the origins of SpaceFund, then because it’s one thing to organize a pitch competition, train the companies before and help, you know, give them some some support afterwards, but raising money, especially from institutional institutions, and, and managing LPs and all the different things that are involved in that making an investment allocations, you know, not an easy job. So talk a little bit about the origins of that, and how it’s what the focus has been these days.

Meagan Crawford 16:50

Yeah, absolutely. So in 2018, my Co-founder at SpaceFund, Rick Tumlinson, and I had had an exit of the space company where we had been previously. And so that kind of really spurred us on to think about what’s the next best thing we can do for the space industry. And it was unequivocally helping solve the funding problem. We were seeing brilliant entrepreneurs going up and down Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, and getting doors slammed in their bases, because the traditional venture capital market just didn’t understand the space industry. More than, well, Elon has a rocket company, and Jeff Bezos has a rocket company. So maybe I should have a rocket company, right. But that’s not what’s really driving the value creation in the industry. And as space entrepreneurs who had been in this, you know, been down in the trenches ourselves for a number of years, Rick and I decided the next best thing we could do for the industry was to bridge the gap between the traditional financial markets, and the space entrepreneurial world, use our expertise, our experience all of those hard earned lessons over the years of being space entrepreneurs, to help this next generation of companies really be successful and have the access to the capital that they need to grow. And so that was their kind of Genesis of SpaceFund. And then we spent, we spent several months, I mean, almost a year, doing all of the research, like we were just talking about proving that these exits happened within the seven year time frame, proving that the space industry is growing at a significant enough rate to be a good investment opportunity. And really kind of looking at this industry from a new perspective that hadn’t existed before. And then we were able to successfully raise our fund one, I looked at that very much like a friend and family round, it was basically recognized, calling up everybody we knew and said, Hey, can you spare $10,000? We can show that we can make this thing work, right? Yeah. And that’s, that’s how we got started, just like 

John Corcoran 18:55

How big was that first round? 

Meagan Crawford 18:57

That first fund was only it was right over a million dollars, which is very, very small and venture capital turns. But it was our proof of concept. Yeah. And we were able to invest in 14 companies out of that fund one. And vintage is 2019. That’s when we started investing. And we’re now sitting at almost 2x. I think it’s 1.89 TVI, for the for the VC nerds out there. But we basically almost multiplied that value by two in a matter of less than four years. And so a 2x value increase in a couple of years is pretty good for an investment fund. And so on the back of that we were able to go out and raise our significantly larger fund to which came in right about 15 million. And between the funds and some special purpose vehicles, we now have 20 million under management which again is very small in the Silicon Valley VC world but in our minds, it’s really nothing to sniff out when you’re starting from scratch in a new industry and we’re currently preparing to raise are much larger still on three. So stare Stepping up based on our success and based on the increasing growth and excitement of what’s going on in the space ecosystem, right now,

John Corcoran 20:08

let’s talk about a couple of those areas. What are the couple areas that are being made possible by the growth in the industry? Are there any new surprising ones like microsatellites, or anything like that, that you really have your eye on?

Meagan Crawford 20:23

Yeah, we like to say that we don’t invest in aerospace, we invest in space. So we don’t do drones or electric airplanes. We only invest in things that are actually going above the Karman Line, which is 62 miles or 100 kilometers up. And we typically don’t invest in rockets. Now, with that caveat, we are investors in SpaceX, because you can’t really have a space by me without an investment in SpaceX. But we’re interested in what comes next. We’re currently tracking 160 Plus launch companies around the world. Why are there 160 teams backed by hundreds of investors out there creating launch companies once because there are supposed to be 100,000 satellites, launching into orbit in the next seven to 10 years. And that’s the all invest all important investment window that we’ve been talking about. And for context, there’s 6000 operational satellites on orbit today, we’re thinking about adding another 100 1000s back. So this is exactly the sort of step change that venture capitalists look for in a market place where you go from single digit 1000s to hundreds of 1000s. That is opportunity. And so what are the things that all 100,000 satellites are going to need, they’re going to need downlink capability, they’re going to need refueling and servicing. They’re going to need processing for the image and the data that they’re capturing on orbit. There’s going to be huge bottlenecks. There’s already bottlenecks in all of these areas. And whereas most people see a problem, the venture capitalist sees an opportunity, right? Where can we invest to help solve these problems, and really helped us this industry?

John Corcoran 22:09

Hmm, very cool. Tell us about the Mission Eve podcast you’ve been doing for a couple of years. Now you started before the pandemic in person, and talk a little bit about the motivation behind why you started it.

Meagan Crawford 22:22

Sounds great, this is very near and dear to my heart. So I’m excited to get the chance to talk about it. So as I mentioned earlier, the thing that really kind of touches my soul and gets me up every morning is this idea of using the power of free enterprise to lift humanity permanently offworld. That means living and working in space. And if we want those permanent human settlements to be reality, they’re going to need 51% Women for biological reasons. Nothing else, right. And so I saw a real problem there, though. And that to date, only 11% of the people who have been displaced have been women. So how do we get from 11% to 51%, that’s a pretty significant job. And when you look around the terrestrial space industry, it’s only about 25% women around the world. So we still have a lot of room. And one of the things that I’ve found talking to women and girls, throughout my career, is that most of them think that space is unattainable for them. And they there’s this common misconception that you have to be a rocket scientist or an engineer to work in the space industry. And that’s no longer the case. The space industry is just like every other industry. I’m coming from Houston, I like to use the example of oil and gas, whatever it is, whatever skill set you have, that’s useful to oil and gas. It’s also useful in the space industry. We need accountants, we need marketing people, we need all of those roles. And so with Mission Eve, I tried to interview women from very diverse backgrounds, and very diverse roles, to show women of any age, but especially those women looking into what their career is going to be or looking into a career change, that the space industry isn’t fit for them. And for women, especially, it’s important to see themselves in a role, which is one of the reasons I decided to add the video as aspect to my podcast as well. Because I wanted women and girls to see someone who looks like them in a role that they can imagine themselves at. And so I’ve interviewed people who work in government, people who are teachers, one of my, one of my friends who I was fortunate enough to interview she started her life as a yoga instructor. And now she’s the CEO of a space startup. And so there’s these really fascinating stories about these women who have overcome great odds, and you know, now have the dream job that they always wanted. And so the point of mission II was to make that more accessible to women and girls around the

John Corcoran 24:58

world. That’s great. Um, so definitely check that out, too. Last question as you live one last question, which my gratitude question, but I’m gonna start one more for before I get that ticket on Blue Origin, yes or no? Did you get yourself a ticket yet? Or would you do it?

Meagan Crawford 25:13

No, I wouldn’t do it. But instead I have, I’m planning something special for one of our portfolio companies space perspective, that is using high altitude balloons to take enclosed capsules to the edge of space. And this is a six hour ride to the edge of space as opposed to the eight minute sub orbital Blue Origin launch. And there’s a bar in a bathroom. So that’s the way the kind of more luxurious way that I feel like I shouldn’t have my first face instead

John Corcoran 25:42

of a Clif Bar in a diaper like you get on the Blue Origin. Well, very cool. And so final question though. I’m a big fan of gratitude, especially expressing gratitude to those who’ve helped you along the way. I don’t I will all start. My remember my grandfather, who worked at the Pentagon when I was a kid, and who was a B 17. Pilot during World War Two. Coming home with all kinds of space paraphernalia my dad still has in his office, this increased encased in acrylic. Well, we thought it was a moon rock, and a little flag that he brought home one day, and we’re pretty sure it’s not a space rock, but it looks like one anyways, I think he got it somehow. You know, that sort of thing, like inspired me as a kid, in addition to watching the space shuttles and all that kind of stuff. But for you, like who you who you grateful to us. But you know, you could say, you know, astronauts that came before other space entrepreneurs, but I love to hear you know, people say peers, contemporaries, mentors, other people in your industry, who’ve helped you along the way who you respect and admire. He’d want a shout out who would you

Meagan Crawford 26:50

mention? Oh, much like you Oh, my grandfather, who was a b 52, bomber pilot and in World War Two, and then went to work for Army Intelligence after he got a master’s degree in psychology. So I was definitely kind of that that was a big part of my life growing up as well. And then I like to give a shout out to Marie Bergeron. She is that guidance counselor at the rice MBA program who really kind of shook me and said, you know, no, follow your dreams, girl. Go find a place for yourself in this industry. And then I think the other Pivotal, another really pivotal person in my life. I mentioned earlier when I went to that very first space conference, and I heard that gentleman talking about using free enterprise to lift humanity permanently offworld that gentleman’s name is Rick Tumlinson. And he became my mentor, and eventually my boss at my at a previous company, and is now my co-founder at SpaceFund. And so, over the last, you know, more, considerably more than a decade, we’re coming up on two decades now. Rick has been really a guide stone for me, in helping me find my way in my career. And so those were really kind of the three I think, pivotal people that got me to where I am in my career today. And then, you know, tons of friends and family along the way that just wouldn’t let me give up no matter how hard the odds I have. I have an uncle, my Uncle Sean, who, who just would not take any BS from me, no, man, you can do anything. This is not too hard for you to shadow. Anyone here. Come back when you What do you fix that? You know? And so having people around me that really believed in me, as has always been, has always been very essential.

John Corcoran 28:34

Yeah. And one last plug, which I don’t think we’ve mentioned yet are the Artemis two mission crew was just announced a few days ago, including the first woman who will be landing on the moon. And that’s really exciting news.

Meagan Crawford 28:48

And it’s very exciting news. And ever since the inception of the Artemis program, I mean, even the name Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. Right. And so the kind of slogan NASA has been using from the start of this program is to take the first woman and the next man back to the moon. And I’m really excited that it is NASA and and the United States that is able to do that. And I wish the entire crew, the best of luck and safety and Godspeed

John Corcoran 29:18

mechanism. It’s so much fun. Where can people go to learn more about perhaps accredited ventures, investors who are interested in knowing more about SpaceFund or all the other things you’re involved in?

Meagan Crawford 29:28, we tried to make it as easy as possible. So to find us on the web, also, you can google my name. That’s an easy way to find myself on LinkedIn and Twitter and all the rest. And then the Mission Eve podcast is available anywhere you consume podcasts, whether that’s Apple podcasts, or any of the platforms were kind of platform agnostic. So just give us a search on your favorite podcast platform and have a listen.

John Corcoran 29:56

Very cool. Meagan, thank you so much for your time. 

Meagan Crawford 29:59

Thank you, John.

Outro 30:00

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