Stellar Ventures unveils $23 million early-stage fund

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SAN FRANCISCO — Stellar Ventures unveiled a fund July 7 with $23 million to invest in early-stage space-related startups.

“The cost of launch has come down so much that any person with an innovative idea can bring it to market,” Stellar Ventures co-founder Celeste Ford told SpaceNews. “It’s like the internet in the 90s. People didn’t know what they were going to do with it. Now, they can’t work if their internet is down.”

Stellar Ventures plans to work closely with Stellar Solutions, a Silicon Valley systems engineering firm Ford founded in 1995. Stellar Solutions currently has more than 300 employees working with U.S. and international aerospace companies and government agencies.

“At the end of the day, that’s really our competitive advantage,” Ford said. “We get three things from Stellar Solutions that no other fund has: deal flow, due diligence and facilitating introductions with the government.”

After investing in Skyloom, for example, Stellar Ventures introduced the optical communications startup to aerospace giant Honeywell. Now, the companies are working together to produce laser crosslink terminals for commercial and military satellites.

Once Stellar Ventures decides to back a company, Stellar Ventures executives often share their plans with fellow space investors.

“There aren’t too many funds that invest in space,” Ford said. “When we have a good investment, we tell each other and we try to raise the bar together.”

Ford welcomes the recent dip in valuations for space startups.

“I was collecting money for the fund when space was frothy,” Ford said. “Now that it’s not, it’s going to be easier to invest. One of the problems we were having when pre-seed and seed valuations were so high was that writing a $500,000 or $1 million check was not moving the needle.”

Ford founded Stellar Ventures earlier this year with investor and entrepreneur Matt Patterson, the firm’s managing partner, and David Anderman, the former SpaceX general counsel who serves as operating partner.

“Stellar Ventures is committed to identifying successful investments for its limited partners and fueling the development of space-enabled technologies to achieve ambitious business, government and environmental goals” Anderman, a former Lucasfilm Ltd. chief operating officer and general counsel, said in a statement. “Engineers  creating the next generation of space startups can prove out their technology on orbit for a fraction of what it cost just a few years ago. What was once the realm of science fiction is now reality as humanity expands into the cosmos.”