Earlier last week one of Globevestor’s portfolio startups, Agnikul Cosmos, announced its $11M Series A fundraise led by Mayfield India in one of the largest funding rounds for a private space-tech startup in India. While all key existing investors participated in the round, including Speciale Invest, Pi Ventures, Artha and us, the round also saw participation from eminent angels like Anand Mahindra, Naval Ravikant, Balaji Srinivasan and Nithin Kamath.
It’s a good time then to revisit & share why we invested in Agnikul back in late 2019 and then again now!
Our first in-person brush with a rocket startup was back in early 2014 when we bumped into Nadir Bagaveyev in the Bay Area. He was building Bagaveev Corporation, possibly one of the earliest attempts globally to create 3D-printed rocket engines for launching nanosatellites to space. Adam Draper and Brayton Williams of Boost VC, always ahead of the curve, had backed Bagaveev then and I remember thinking this was definitely “out there” as far as startup ideas were concerned. Nadir came across as a very upbeat and optimistic personality to hang around or share an occasional meal with, which I came to believe was necessary for attempting such a radical venture, whatever be the eventual outcome. It also felt incredible to me that the spacetech sector in the US was so open & welcoming to entrepreneurs that Nadir was going and doing his basic launch testing at Half Moon Bay and in some kind farmer’s fields! The other obvious question that popped in our minds was when would an Indian startup be able to attempt something as radical — arguably you needed really bold founders, lots of government support, highly optimistic investors and a team that was willing to buy such a vision. If one had asked me then, I might’ve said not likely in 2 decades!
And incredibly, just 5 years later in late 2019, Raju and I found ourselves in deep discussions with Srinath, Moin and Prof. Chakravarthy of Agnikul Cosmos. Srinath, an out & out Wall Street professional but a major aerospace enthusiast, had not very long ago packed his bags from the US and landed in India with a dream of building a small rocket company, persuaded his friend Moin to become his co-founder, knocked on several scientists’ doors and convinced Prof. Chakravarthy of IITM to join them in their mission. With the blessings of Mr. RV Perumal (father of GSLV), they were literally (almost) aiming for the moon. This team had it all — the vision, the hustle, the knowledge/skills and the grit.
(A special mention here to IITM and our friends at Speciale Invest, who incubated and seeded Agnikul at a much earlier stage and took a much larger risk than when we participated!)
However, as every investor knows, team is only part of a winning startup. We had to be convinced about the market, problem, timing & product, among other things. And here is part of our thinking that eventually led to us backing the Agnikul team.
Firstly, the satellite market has evolved a lot in the past 10–20 years. Satellites have shrunk rapidly in size and mass. For average satellites, the size has gone down from 1,000 kg to 10 kg and even more, such as miniature cubesats. Then, satellites have started working from Low Earth Orbits (600 km) as opposed to Geostationary Orbits (36,000 km). And the satellite count has increased manyfold -– instead of one heavy satellite, multiple low mass satellites are now doing the same function (swarms/constellations) — we’re witnessing an explosion in the number of small satellites being built today primarily for commercial & academic applications (and not for defense/security/governments as one would assume) .
Secondly, these small satellites have a big launch problem. Despite the miniaturization of satellites, their launch into space still looks the same as it did twenty years ago. Rockets that are operational today were built for the satellites of the last decade. So, rockets are still very large but most satellites are very small. Therefore, for a small satellite to go to space, there has to be some form of ride share with a large satellite, which is highly inefficient & costly. While satellite build times can be months, wait times for launch can be years. With 9,000+ small satellites expected to be launched annually by 2025, this is a huge problem for global aerospace sector, amounting to a $40 billion market. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that small satellites get their dedicated small launch vehicles.
However, many small rocket companies have started up across the globe in recent years. Without going into details, the way Agnikul stands out is by a combination of several key factors — their ability to move complexity from manufacturing to design, using 3D printing more extensively than anyone else has possibly used ever, building for modularity & manufacturing speed, and ensuring high portability. This leads to lots of advantages in launch costs, speed of launch, and flexibility in launch location.
Imagine that a small satellite company can order a launch rocket on demand, at an affordable price, have it ready within days, and can use it to launch from the nearest possible location. This is the future Agnikul is building and which we’re privileged to participate in. And since our first cheque, the team has added many feathers to its cap. Along with big strides on product, launch partnerships, and customer signups, Agnikul became the first company to sign an NDA with ISRO after the Indian government opened the space sector in 2020 through IN-SPACe.
We’re really excited to back them again, very happy for the team that their investor group looks rock solid, and are rooting for them to reach orbit soon!
Globevestor invests in high-impact startups that’ll change the world. We invest in ambitious founders in India & North America, through both our own seed funds and through syndicates raised from our private investor network. To start a conversation, reach out to Ankur or Raju directly, through a common connect, or ping us if you’re a founder building something awesome or an investor who wants to join our private network.