Techstars and Starburst unveil space startup accelerator

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This article was corrected on April 19 to note participation by Israel Aerospace Industries North America. 

SAN FRANCISCO – Starburst Aerospace and Techstars announced plans Feb. 12 to begin accepting applications for a new space-focused accelerator based in Los Angeles and backed by the U.S. Air Force, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC and Israel Aerospace Industries North America.

The Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator is scheduled to review applications and announce the selection in May of ten companies to participate in the three-month program. Each participant will receive a $120,000 investment and the opportunity to work with mentors who have space technology experience as well as executive mentors to help them prepare business plans and strategies, said Matt Kozlov, managing director of the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator.

“Our goal is to help them achieve two years of commercial space traction in three months,” Kozlov told SpaceNews.

During the first month of the accelerator, startup executives will have roughly 15 meetings a day with prospective partners and customers.

“These are meetings they would have flown around the world to attend,” Kozlov said. “It’s like business development on steroids.”

About a year ago, Techstars, a company based in Boulder, Colorado with dozens of accelerators around the world, began looking for ways to support early-stage space technology entrepreneurs. It quickly joined forces with Starburst Aerospace, which runs its own accelerator, matching aerospace and defense corporations with startups that already have strong intellectual property and products to sell or technology at the proof-of-concept stage.

“Starburst has succeeded in the last three to four years in legitimizing the startup ecosystem in the eyes of the old aerospace guard,” said Van Espahbodi, Starburst Aerospace Accelerator co-founder and managing partner. “By bringing the right corporate sponsor consortium to back this program, we have demonstrated that this is not diminishing in any way, it’s only continuing to grow.”

Rather than wait and see what new products enter the marketplace, aerospace companies and government agencies will influence the startups by providing mentors who understand program requirements and customer needs, Espahbodi said.

Techstars has built its business on working with early stage companies, including many before they raise seed funding.  With the help of partners in a particular city or industry, Techstars identifies promising startups.

“We only take in startups if our partners are excited to work with them,” Kozlov said.

The first Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator accelerator program is scheduled to begin in mid-July and culminate in October with a demonstration day attended by hundreds of investors, Kozlov said.

Over the next three years, Techstars and Starburst plan to repeat the cycle, bringing additional space companies into the accelerator, Espahbodi said.

Techstars often runs city-based accelerators. Kepler Communications, a satellite telecommunications startup, participated in the Techstars Seattle accelerator. Slingshot Aerospace, a startup employing artificial intelligence to draw insight from satellite, aerial and drone data, was part of Techstars Los Angeles accelerator.

In addition to the initial investment and mentoring, startups joining the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator will receive Amazon Web Service credits, free legal advice and financial services from Silicon Valley Bank, Kozlov said.