Techstars doubles down on space with a new Starburst cohort and European space program

Jonathan Shieber
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - FEBRUARY 05: The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket sits on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center as it is prepared for tomorrow's lift-off on February 5, 2018 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world, is scheduled to make its maiden flight between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. tomorrow. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Techstars has got the stars in its eyes, and space on the brain as it doubles down on investment programs that aim to enable the commercial space industry to boldly go where it has never gone before.

On the heels of SpaceX's historic mission last weekend taking astronauts to the International Space Station, the space industry feels newly invigorated and its prospects loom large in the minds of early-stage investors.

SpaceX’s astronaut launch marks the dawn of the commercial human spaceflight industry


"I believe strongly that the commercial market is emerging," said Matt Kozlov, the managing director of the Techstars Starburst Space program. "The flight last weekend was a very important milestone. We’ve had commercial flights for putting satellites into orbit for years, and I’ve got several startups launching satellites in the next year or two."

For Kozlov and others, the combination of American government dollars funneling into commercial programs creates an incredible opportunity that investors can tap. "The fact that the American government in particular is increasingly relying on commercial companies to do what had typically been done by the military [and that] they are increasing the amount of money that they are funneling into startups to mature them is a clear indicator," said Kozlov.

The Air Force, in particular, through Small Business Innovation Research grants and early contracts to suppliers, has been a large benefactor for early-stage space companies, said Kozlov. "NASA has been a little slower to working with startups," he said. "They will work with very big companies like SpaceX because they have a lower risk tolerance. But I am seeing that start to change. And I think our program is part of that initial change...We’re seeing NASA embrace external contracts for innovation."

Just one year after launching its initial cohort, the Techstars Starburst portfolio had managed to notch a few successes, including a $3 million round for OrbitFab; a boost in profile for Morpheus Space and its modular, scalable satellite propulsion technology; and an imminent satellite launch for Pixxel.

Building on that success, Techstars has actually developed a second space accelerator program for partners across the pond.

The Techstars Allied Space Accelerator is a virtual program formed in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and the Norwegian Space Agency.

According to a statement from Techstars, the virtual program also focuses on the next generation of space technologies, with companies working on geospatial analytics, satellite servicing, space situational awareness, resilient communications, machine learning and other verticals.

It's a complement to the existing Starburst program, whose latest cohort includes:

  • Bifrost: a company that develops a technology to build machine learning applications 10 times faster by allowing machine developers to generate labeled data sets
  • Holos: an extended reality software development platform to easily build immersive experiences
  • Infinite Composites Technologies: a manufacturer of composite pressure vessels and structures
  • Lux Semiconductors: a developer of system-on-foil flexible electronic circuits
  • Natural Intelligence Systems: a developer of machine learning systems that streamlines data preparation
  • Prewitt Ridge: a provider of engineering augmentation software to help engineers design complex systems
  • SATIM Inc: a provider of risk analysis software and services related to critical infrastructure
  • Urban Sky: a manufacturer of a proprietary remote sensing vehicle called the Microballon
  • vRotors: providing telerobotics technology for the masses, the company enables the remote control of any partner company's robot or drone from a personal computer or headset
  • WeavAir: has developed an technology to monitor air contamination, air quality and mechanical system failure

Techstars Allied Space Accelerator:

  • AlphaBBL: a monitoring and analytics tool for oil storage facilities that captures data taken from space and creates predictive tools to interpret that data
  • AnsuR: this company develops what Techstars describes as high-precision, mission-critical visual communication distribution technologies
  • Arway: a global location platform that uses extended reality
  • Cognitive Space: a company providing autonomous satellite operations technologies
  • Ellipsis Earth Intelligence: is providing optimized access to geo-intelligence
  • Hosta Labs: uses machine learning to provide structural assessment of physical spaces
  • Kayhan Space: the developer of a hosted flight dynamics and mission analysis platform for space situational awareness
  • SaltyCloud, PBC: this company makes automation technologies for cybersecurity operations
  • Space Products and Innovation GmbH: a developer of plug and play technologies to streamline satellite manufacturing
  • Vake: a provider of machine learning for satellite imagery to identify all seafaring vessels