French photonics startup Cailabs raises $8.8 million

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Updated Oct. 5 at 2:17 p.m. with additional information from Cailabs. 

NEWARK, Delaware — A French startup developing optical communications systems for spacecraft and other industries has raised 8 million euros ($8.8 million) from a mix of venture capital firms and the French government. 

Cailabs, a Rennes, France-based company founded in 2013, says it has developed a technology that controls the shape of light within optical fibers, enabling a thousandfold increase in data speeds. 

The French Armed Forces Ministry and aerospace giant Safran’s venture capital arm, Safran Corporate Ventures, participated in the round, which was led by Supernova Invest, a technology investment firm that oversees 260 million euros worth of funds. Previous investors Innovacom and Starquest Capital also participated in the round. 

Cailabs has raised 16.6 million euros overall. Last year the company released a component called Tilba that it says helps laser signals travel between Earth and space with less atmospheric disturbance. 

Jean-François Morizur, Cailabs’ chief executive, told SpaceNews by email Oct. 5 that space is a “minor part of our current business, but a bigger part of our development roadmap.” That roadmap includes hiring 10 more people (up from the company’s current headcount of 43 people), and growing in North America to be closer to customers there, he said.

In June, Cailabs partnered with Skyloom, a Berkeley, California company developing a geostationary relay system to communicate with satellites in low Earth orbit, though neither company released many details about their collaboration. 

Cailabs also counts NASA as a customer. 

In addition to space, Cailabs builds photonics systems for industrial laser machining, computer network infrastructure and terrestrial fiber. Those mature markets provide more near-term revenue opportunities, since space applications for laser communications still largely consist of technology demonstrations. 

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly described the military applications of Cailabs’ technologies as “numerous and very promising.”

“It was therefore essential that the [ministry] takes part in this fundraising, via the fund Definvest operated with Bpifrance,” she said in an Oct. 4 news release. 

Safran, an aviation company that co-owns European rocket builder ArianeGroup, said it is interested in using Cailabs technology in aeronautical cabling.

Cailabs said it plans to use its new funds to hire sales and technical staff, and to strengthen its commercial presence in North America. The startup joins a growing list of companies developing laser communications systems for satellites, including Tesat Spacecom and Mynaric in Germany, and U.S. companies BridgeComm, CACI International company LGS Innovations, and Ball Aerospace in partnership with Honeywell.