Venture capitalist takes leave of absence from SpaceX board

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WASHINGTON — A prominent venture capitalist who has been a key investor and supporter of commercial space efforts has left the firm he co-founded and is taking a leave of absence from the board of SpaceX.

In a brief statement Nov. 13, venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) announced that Steve Jurvetson, a co-founder and partner in the firm would be leaving by “mutual agreement.” The statement did not specify the reason for his departure.

However, a report last month by the technology publication The Information stated DFJ was investigating “indirect and second-hand allegations” regarding Jurvetson’s conduct towards women. DFJ did not mention that investigation in its statement, but noted that the firm’s culture “has been, and will continue to be, built on the values of respect and integrity in all of our interactions.”

Jurvetson denied any allegations in a tweet that confirmed he was leaving DFJ. “I am leaving DFJ to focus on personal matters, including taking legal action against those whose false statements have defamed me,” he said.

Jurvetson is best known in the space industry for being an early investor in SpaceX, a stake that earned him a place on the company’s board of directors. “It is the most unusual investment for us. It has become our largest investment in terms of dollars in and certainly a spectacular opportunity,” he said in a Nov. 9 on-stage interview during a space conference in Seattle organized by The Economist. That interview did not address the allegations of investigation that had been reported weeks earlier.

Jurvetson is also on the board of Tesla, the electric vehicle company that, like SpaceX, is run by Elon Musk, and he recalled seeing an opportunity to invest in SpaceX as Musk was working to save Tesla in late 2008 when it struggled to raise money. That happened just after SpaceX itself survived a near-death experience with its first successful launch of its Falcon 1.

SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said Nov. 13 in response to a SpaceNews inquiry that Jurvetson “is on a leave of absence from the SpaceX and Tesla boards pending resolution of these allegations.”

DFJ also invested in Planet, the company that operates a constellation of more than 150 Earth imaging satellites to provide daily coverage of the globe. “Today, I would say that imaging — Earth observation, remote sensing — is the biggest opportunity that, over the next five years, we will exploit as a planet,” he said at the Seattle event.

Jurvetson is on the board of Planet. The company did not respond to a Nov. 13 inquiry about his status on the board.

In addition to his investments, Jurvetson has been something of an evangelist for entrepreneurial space ventures, discussing why he felt investment in space companies was worthwhile.

In Seattle, he drew parallels between the space industry and the internet industry, likening companies like SpaceX that provide access to space to broadband companies that provide internet access to consumers and businesses. “In both cases it’s literally access: there’s broadband access and there’s space access,” he said. “And then what follows in an entrepreneurial bloom that is built on top of that.”