Spend a few minutes talking to space tech venture capitalists Ilya Golubovich and Mike Lousteau of I2BF Global Ventures, and you’ll feel psyched about the future of humanity.
Known as green tech investors, Golubovich, based in Moscow, and Lousteau, in New York, have fallen in love with the nascent space industry. They have backed three space companies so far: Dauria Aerospace, Planetary Resources and CloudEO, with more on the way, making them one of most active space tech investors on Earth.
Sure, they see space as a huge financial opportunity, “a multi-billion market, it can be even bigger,” as Golubovich describes.
But it’s also an industry filled with visionary entrepreneurs and they now see space tech as much bigger than just money; it’s the next step in human development.
They began their space journey by backing a company called Planetary Resources. It has the sci-fi mission of trying to mine asteroids for minerals. It is building its own drone spacecraft to do this and, along the way, inventing a lot of technology that it licenses to everyone from NASA to medical device manufacturers.
“One of our first investments was Planetary Resources co-founded by Eric Anderson, Diamandis, two visionaries. With this type of innovation, their market can be in the trillions, mining precious metals on nearby asteroids,” says Golubovich. I2BF was the sole investor in the company’s $US1.5 million seed round.
It’s not just the rare earth metals, like gold, that will be the boon for asteroid mining. It’s everyday stuff like water. By extracting water from asteroids, asteroids can become a water source for space missions.
“A standard bottle of water can cost $US50,000 in orbit when you factor in the costs of getting it there. Imagine if you had water in space? You can enable a new scale of space exploration,” Golubovich says.
Living in Moscow, running a $US350 million fund, much of it from wealthy Soviet Union families, Golubovich realised he was in a unique position to do more with space tech.
“The Russian space program is very strong. It’s been around as long or longer than the U.S. program. There are all these guys, mostly at government institutions, looking at SpaceX, and Planet Labs getting millions of dollars in stock options. I thought it would be great to get these guys together have them share benefits like a Russian equivalent of SpaceX,” Golubovich says.
His partner Lousteau laughs, “Golubovich began chasing space startups down saying, ‘I want to give you money. Where are things right now?'”
That’s how they founded Dauria Aerospace, which is building low-cost satellites, launching them into space and letting anyone write apps for them. I2BF has invested $US20 million of the company’s total $US30 raised. (It’s not the only one working on this. San Francisco-based Planet Labs is doing a similar thing, and has raised $US62 million).
Dauria’s founder, Mikhail Kokorich, made his money selling TVs and refridgerator, “Like a Russian Best Buy,” Golubovich describes. He sold that company and used the cash to bootstrap his dream space startup. He’s known in the region like the Russian Elon Musk, Golubovich says.
Next up for these investors: big data space software. Their newest investment, CloudEO (investment amount not yet disclosed), fits in here.
CloudEO collects vast amounts of data from various satellites and lets anyone write geo-location apps with that. Those are apps that can track your location and use that to help the app, whether its finding a parking spot or documenting your photos.
And after that? Not even the sky is the limit.
“This is the last great frontier, with a lot of personalities around it, daring to make something new,” adds Lousteau.
“In the tech sector, you have people staring at screens in their hands,” he adds. “That’s interesting. But you can you go mine an asteroid! It’s not as crazy as it sounds. The base principals and the tech really does exist.”