Op-ed | From spectator to space investor: How a teen from Maine became a Virgin Galactic shareholder

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It all started with Mr. V, my middle school teacher famous for the stock market game he ran each year for the eighth graders. As a seventh grader, I convinced Mr. V to let me play. I had no idea what I was doing or how to invest, but I became obsessed with the stock market. 

As a high school freshman, my father let me help him invest his money. I didn’t have much of a plan and my first year as a trader wasn’t very successful; however, I learned a lot. Before the end of my sophomore year, I had developed an investment approach that included positions in high-growth, future-focused companies. 

I persuaded my father to buy several shares in Virgin Galactic (SPCE), the first publicly traded space tourism company. He purchased some initial shares in May when the stock was trading around $15 and added shares over the course of the year. I saw the opportunity for growth in this sector and wanted to make a long term bet on the success of space commercialization. I eventually opened a Custodial Roth IRA and purchased my own shares of Virgin Galactic in November when the stock was trading around $26. I firmly believe in the potential of Virgin Galactic and the future prospects of the company despite its current status as an unprofitable business. 

Virgin Galactic wasn’t the only publicly traded space company when I opened my Roth, but it was one of the only opportunities for a small investor to back an exciting new space sector. That’s quickly changing. In the past few months alone, a handful of other companies including Rocket Lab and Astra, have announced plans to go public by merging with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). 

Max Provencher, amateur investor and Future Business Leaders sponsorship director, is long on Virgin Galactic — and commercial space in general. Photo courtesy of the author.

I plan to continue to invest in space stocks, as there is significant potential in the sector as a whole. Despite recent concerns about inflated stock prices, I focus on the long-term prospects for space, which remain remarkably positive. However, I think that the role of the retail investor has long been written off as insignificant. The recent spotlight on GameStop (GME) has shown that retail investors can influence markets in a volatile and emotional way.

During this saga, Virgin Galactic was swept into the heap of stocks being driven up by Reddit traders. Virgin Galactic stock hit an all-time high of $62.80 on Feb. 11 before falling back to its pre-Reddit-rally levels. During the rapid increase and selloff, I continued to hold and eventually bought a handful of shares during a dip.

This event and the recent GameStop craze make me worry about short-term volatility but I know that I’m in the market for the long term so I try to ignore the latest market fad. I also think about billionaire Warren Buffett’s “20-slot-rule” advice to new investors: treat each stock as if it is one of only 20 you can buy in your lifetime. This forces you to think very hard about which businesses will be successful in the long term. Virgin Galactic and other space companies are investments that I would put on my punch card and hold for the rest of my life.

Private space commercialization will drive more than market returns; it will help to foster economic prosperity across the globe. To me, investing in Virgin Galactic is also about ensuring the next generation of technological innovation. Throughout history, leaders of industry have been the titans of innovation. As Elon Musk has said, “Government isn’t that good at rapid advancement of technology. It tends to be better at funding basic research. To have things take off, you’ve got to have the commercial companies do it. ” 

Investors and companies have an incentive the government just doesn’t have: failure. A business that doesn’t innovate risks going out of business. This central motivation for companies will enable greater success in space than if governments are left on their own path of slow progress. 

At a time when people are most concerned with their health, family, and income, space isn’t on the minds of many. But it’s on my mind. Humankind cannot neglect working toward a future that takes decades to achieve. Many of the issues faced today could be solved by more long-term investments enabling success for not only the next generation, but for the next 10 generations after. Companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin are making investments which achieve that goal.The science-fiction age in space is nearly upon us, and space commercialization will drive innovation to get there. I want to be part of that. 

I’m deeply passionate about space. It intrigues me, it makes me curious, it makes me hopeful, and above all, space makes me think of the unlimited opportunities that have yet to be discovered. 

It may sound crazy, but I like thinking that I could someday live on Mars or in space. This is not just a fun idea; space colonization serves as a backup plan for humanity. If everything else fails, humanity needs the capability to live in space or on another planet. The capability to live in space won’t be possible in the future if the process of space commercialization isn’t a priority in the present. 

A century ago, space was perceived as this far away place in a far away land, untouchable and only imaginable in science fiction. Fifty years ago, space became tangible when humans stepped foot on the moon. Today, space is more real than ever before, with the first privately crewed space missions, the first space tourism company, and significant investments in space by private companies and private capital. 

The reward for successful space commercialization is immense. It will unlock the future of space exploration while driving innovation, economic prosperity, and progress in space. I’m 17 as of writing this, and I want to live to see the day humans not only step foot on Mars but colonize Mars and explore beyond our solar system. I hope that I can be a part of that. Investing in space companies is my small way of enabling the future of space. 


Max Provencher is a junior at Searsport District High School in Searsport, Maine. He currently serves as the Future Business Leaders of America national treasurer’s council sponsorship director and is an amateur investor. Max tweets about “Business & Stuff” at @MaxProvencherME.