Fiber Optic Cables Take Center Stage at Startup Space 2020

SATELLITE’s fourth Startup Space competition showcased ten hungry entrepreneurs with ideas ranging from how to design space helmets to how to use Earth Observation (EO) data for global trade. Each had just five minutes to make their pitch before a panel of investment firm judges. Ultimately, contestant Daniel Turner’s pitch for TRAXyl, a company that places fiber optic cables directly onto pavement, came away with the win.

Turner, whose company is the first technology focused on rural broadband to win Startup Space, will receive private pitch meetings with the judges’ firms, a trophy, free access to future SATELLITE shows, and an interview feature in Via Satellite. Coincidentally, he is the third winner in a row named “Daniel.”

Raphael Roettgen, one of the competition judges, was impressed by the diversity of the subsectors that competitors represented, and that companies came from all over the world.

“If we want to successfully commercialize space this is precisely what we need — entrepreneurs everywhere working on all of the potential space business opportunities,” Roettgen said.

In the seed funding round, there were five competitors including Taqadam, which asked for $1 million; Neutron Star Systems, which asked for $3.5 million; Arch Rift, which asked for $250,000; Sateliot, which asked for $2 million; and AnsuR Technologies which asked for $3 million.

Three major market segments were represented: space hardware, software services, and ground services, but a few of the companies fell into less typical markets seen at SATELLITE. Arch Rift, a company founded by Emily Kourtzen, focuses on user-friendly space helmets that can be adapted for emergency and commercial use in space, but can also be implemented here on earth situations in like mining accidents.

Karina Grosheva of Taqadam, presented a service aiming to provide financial firms the expertise and data-driven knowledge to invest in foreign markets using earth imaging satellites from Planet, Airbus, and more. Grosheva made an interesting case from the financial side of the spectrum, but judges were confused about what differentiates it from other geospatial intelligence companies already on the market.

Sateliot, presented by Jaume Sanpera, and Neuron Space Systems, presented by Marcus Wright, both represented advancements in hardware products for small satellite and communication companies. Sateliot is focused on the market that won’t have Internet of Things (IoT) connection in the coming years, aiming to provide coverage using 16 nanosatellites. The judges questioned how this is different from other companies aiming to bring coverage to the world.

Neuron Space Systems CEO Marcus Wright gave a dynamic pitch for an “electric future,” presenting a new electric propulsion engine using technology that he said has been researched for 60 years, but has been “written off.” Wright also presented that with his current business plan and the proper funding, it may take up to 18 years to return $500 million in revenue.

In the Series A funding round, which focuses on companies that are farther along the path to becoming successful startups, Satellite Vu asked for $2.6 million; Eighth Continent Technologies predicted to build 16 satellites for $7 million a satellite; Intergalactic Education asked for $500,000; and TRAXyl, which didn’t ask for any funding.

Intergalactic Education is a computer application focused on assisting middle school aged kids in mastering foundational math skills while demonstrating that space can be in their future. The company was also the only education focused startup pitched at the competition.

After Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 servicer dockedwith an Intelsat satellite in February, the industry’s eyes have been turned to the real possibilities of docking and servicing satellites on orbit. At Eighth Continent Technologies (8CT), instead of servicing the satellite, the company’s plan is to send a “scout sat” to failed satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) within six hours to observe what may have gone wrong in operation. They use a “look but don’t touch” approach, providing 0.5 centimeter resolution to evaluate satellite conditions.

Looking the other direction, Satellite Vu is focused on imaging earth, the company plans to use a mashup of sensors on the seven proposed satellites to allow thermal and infrared imaging. Companies can buy this data to accomplish an enormous range of various tasks, from pinpointing where buildings with the highest thermal emissions are, to potentially monitoring illegal fishing boats, to determining how many shifts are being worked in a factory.

TRAXyl, the winner of the Startup Pitch Competition was included in this round. Turner’s company is already in action looking to expand further. TRAXyl introduced a technology that will promises to change the way connections are made. The company has found a way to essentially paint fiber optics on pavement and asphalt for $9 per foot. The technology has undergone hours of testing and Turner even claimed: “We cannot make it fail.”

TRAXyl has secured two patents for their technology, eight pilot projects, and a $1.44 million contract to build for the Air Force. Turner shared that the technology will be especially appreciated in urban areas where digging trenches for fiber optic cables is incredibly expensive and far too difficult, which has led to “islands” of disconnected people in these areas.

Competition judge Rafferty Jackson was impressed by how many college-aged students made it as far as they did in the competition, and that it’s extremely important to support young entrepreneurs in their endeavors to expand innovation in the space sector.

“The competitors are more impressive every year,” Jackson said, setting up a challenge for Startup Space 2021. VS

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