Spire raises $40 million for analytics products and Asia-Pacific market

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WASHINGTON — Spire, which operates a constellation of satellites that provide weather, tracking and other data, has raised a new round of more than $40 million to fund work on data products and expansion into the Asia-Pacific market.

The company announced the new round Sept. 25, featuring several strategic partners and new and returning financial investors. The strategic partners include Japanese companies Itochu and Mitsui as well as the Scottish Investment Bank, while GPO Fund, Perennial Value Management Limited and Bessemer Ventures led the financial investors. Several earlier investors also participated in the new round.

Peter Platzer, chief executive of Spire, said in a Sept. 25 interview that the company didn’t plan to disclose the exact amount of funding it raised because not all of its investors want to publicize their role in the funding round. He also declined to specify the company’s valuation, other than to say “no one is unhappy” with company’s value after this round.

The new funding will support the company’s work in developing new analytics products based on the data its constellation of cubesats collect. The company announced its first such product, a weather forecasting service for maritime customers, earlier this month.

“What we’ve been focused on is creating a constellation and generating a large amount of data,” Platzer said. “We crossed a number of really important thresholds in regards to the amount and quality of the data that we produce. Now we’re going into the next phase of taking the data and bundling it into analytics products that deliver knowledge to the customer.”

Weather will be a major area of focus, using radio occultation data collected by Spire’s satellites that provide atmospheric profiles of temperature, pressure and moisture. The company will provide services for a range of industries, from agriculture to energy. “That’s where you’re going to see a lot of the rollout of analytics products serving those industries,” he said.

The funding will also support a push into the Asia-Pacific region. The company has extensive business in the United States and Europe, but the strategic partnerships in particular will enable Spire to move into that region. “They are very hard to penetrate without a local partner,” he said. “Having those platinum-level brand names, Mitsui and Itochu, is something we worked to get, and we’re really excited about their commitment to be partners, customers and investors in Spire.”

“We are excited to invest in and partner with Spire to bring their next generation weather capabilities to the global market,” Shigeyuki Toya, senior vice president of Mitsui USA’s Financial and New Business Division, said in a statement.

Spire is not currently profitable, but Platzer said the company is working to achieve profitability within two years. At that point, the company could consider conducting an initial public offering (IPO) of stock, but he said there’s no requirement for the company to do so.

“The way we want to structure ourselves is to set certain criteria that we call ‘IPO-ready,’” he said, such as revenue, profitability and growth rate. “It doesn’t mean necessarily that we’ll do an IPO, but we want to have the aspirations for ourselves to be ready if everyone decides this is the best thing for our customer, our people and our investors.”

That focus is welcomed by one of Spire’s new investors. “There is a realization in the venture capital community that America tech companies are staying private too long and going public too late,” said Jeff Stewart, managing director of GPO Fund, in a statement to SpaceNews. That IPO, he suggested, could be on a foreign exchange. “I think you will see more U.S. VC backed technology companies listing in Asia-Pacific, as entrepreneurs discover the large pools of institutional capital looking for exposure to the technology sector.”

While the funding will primarily go to expansion of products and markets, the company is continuing to refine its constellation. Spire has launched more than 100 cubesats, with more than 80 in operation today. Platzer said Spire may expand the size of the constellation by up to 50% in the near future, but will devote more effort to increasing the capabilities of individual satellites.

“What we have had the most success with is increasing the data production per satellite. It’s less about the number of satellites and more about the data per satellite,” he said. The company has seen one to two orders of magnitude improvements in data production, he said, all while staying within the three-unit cubesat form factor, thanks to software upgrades and other improvements.

Platzer said that, in addition to existing payloads for radio occultation weather data and ship and aircraft tracking, the company is planning add a new payload for collecting reflected microwave signals that can provide information on wind speeds and soil moisture, an approach he said is similar to the one used by NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) satellite system for hurricane forecasting.

“There is an increasing awareness that there is Earth observation beyond just a picture,” he said. “There are other modalities that you can use to observe the Earth and derive valuable information, and Spire is a company at the forefront of that.”