Episode #302: Lisa Rich, Hemisphere Ventures, Xplore, “There’s Never Been A More Exciting Time For The Space Industry”
Guest: Lisa Rich is managing partner of Hemisphere Ventures, an early stage VC firm focused on frontier tech. She’s also founder and COO of Xplore, a space company dedicated to deep space exploration.
Date Recorded: 3/31/2021
Sponsor: Masterworks– Use Promo Code “MEB” to skip their 15,000 person wait list
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Summary: In episode 302, we welcome back our guest, Lisa Rich, managing partner of Hemisphere Ventures and founder and COO of Xplore.
In today’s episode, we’re chatting about the space sector, which has been absolutely on fire. Lisa updates us on what’s happened in the space sector since we last spoke. She covers the impact of both SPAC’s and Ark Invest’s new space ETF on the sector. Then she shares updates on some of her prior investments, including Axiom Space and their quest to build the first commercial space station.
As we wind down, Lisa shares what’s going on with Xplore and the development of their spacecraft, the Xcraft.
All this and more in episode 302 with Hemisphere Ventures and Xplore’s Lisa Rich.
Links from the Episode:
- 0:39 – Sponsor: Masterworks – Use Promo Code “MEB” to skip their 15,000 person wait list
- 1:38 – Intro
- 2:35 – Welcome to our guest, Lisa Rich
- 3:58 – What’s new and emerging in the space sector
- 6:13 – The Meb Faber Show – Episode #233: Lisa Rich, Hemisphere Ventures, Xplore, “Opening Up The Door For Access To Space
- 6:39 – Axiom Space update
- 9:15 – SPACs within the space sector
- 11:32 – ARK Invest Space Exploration and Innovation ETF
- 13:00 – Current space fund composition versus portfolio construction
- 14:07 – UMBRA, Planet IQ, Lynk and other companies stepping into this sector
- 16:32 – Lisa’s thoughts on Hemisphere’s portfolio
- 18:00 – Hemisphere Ventures’ investment format
- 19:11 – What Lisa’s looking for on the horizon in the space industry
- 21:27 – Space through an ESG lens
- 24:00 – Will space companies become beneficiaries of environmental credits?
- 25:24 – An update on Xplore: Space As A Service
- 27:20 – LightCraft: Advanced Solar Sail
- 30:25 – Xplore’s target market
- 31:23 – Time horizons for upcoming missions
- 32:57 – Lisa’s request for startups
- 35:09 – Seemingly outlandish and speculative science-fiction-esque mission concepts
- 37:03 – A potential divide between government and independently funded missions
- 39:15 – Where Xplore acquires their funding
- 40:12 – Things Lisa is thinking about in the coming years
- 42:50 – International Astronautical Congress
- 43:47 – Learn more about Lisa; hemisphere.com; Xplore.com
Transcript of Episode 302:
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What’s up, everybody? We got an out-of-the-world show for you today. Our returning guest is managing partner of Hemisphere Ventures, an early-stage VC firm focused on frontier technologies. She’s also founder and COO of Xplore, a space company dedicated to deep space exploration. In today’s episode, we’re chatting about the space sector, which has been absolutely on fire. Our guest updates us on what’s happened in the sector since we last spoke, we hear about the impact of both SPACs and arc investments, new space ETF on the sector. We get updates on some of her prior investments, including Axiom Space and their quest to build the first commercial space station. Then our guest shares why she thinks space companies actually are a great fit for ESG investors. As we wind down, our guest shares what’s going on with Xplore and the development of their spacecraft, the X-Craft. Please enjoy this amazing episode with Hemisphere Ventures and Xplore’s, Lisa Rich. Lisa, welcome back to the show.
Lisa: Meb, it’s great to be here.
Meb: So, listeners, we had Lisa on back in the summertime and so much has been going on in the world of space. We thought we’d have her back on to chat a bit. We even just had another space ETF launch. What’s been going on since last summer? You got any updates for us? What’s new at space industry? Oh the way, sorry. I’m hopeful, double fingers crossed, the month of April, there’s two launches at Vandenberg. So I’m trying to go see my first launch and if they don’t get scrapped, I’m going to see my first launch. So if any listeners are going to be in the area, let me know. We can do a rocket launch party up in Santa Barbara area.
Lisa: Oh, that’ll be amazing. We had in the Seattle area, our residents were treated to a little sky show the other night because the rocket boosters or SpaceX at a launch and we got to see some, you know, UFO’s, if you will, flying back to earth and somebody caught a video of it, and sent it to me and it was just a nice little surprise. And I do hope you get to see those launches because there’s nothing like a launch. That experience in person is tremendous.
Meb: I’m excited. My 3-year-old has an astronaut suit. I’m sure he’ll wear for it. So we’re pretty stoked. So a lot’s been going on in the sector. I think we even had a Barron’s cover a few weeks ago about space. What’s new in your world? What’s new in the space world? Things accelerating a little bit?
Lisa: Oh, absolutely. I would say on the investor side, there’s never been a more exciting time for the space industry or more of a focus on the space industry. Certainly, with the SPACs that are happening, a lot of our colleagues are participating in those as part of the boards, so they’re behind the scenes. We have seen several of them launch already and I think the key thing to know is that there are so many more to follow. So this is not just a few out the door and that’s it, this is just the start of the SPAC craze for the space sector. And it’s interesting because people are asking me, “Should I invest in what’s out there now?” And I think that’s going to go in waves. The first companies out the door, the first one out the door, of course, was the famous, the Virgin Galactic, opportunity people had to invest in the first space company to really be public. And that’s been very popular and I’ve supported that because I think there’s a long-term opportunity and they were the first one to do it, which is all good.
The next ones out the door, there are a lot of reasons why they have been the first to raise funds and try and get the growth, maybe they didn’t have already. There’s a third way of coming, and those are the companies that will be certainly at the diamonds in the rough that I have worked with. And we can speculate on who those might be, but Hemisphere has been the first investor in companies that are going to be space unicorns. And we continue to do that. We are thrilled to see the progress with companies like Axiom Space that announced their $130 million raise. It’s really extraordinary to think about that when three years ago we’re starting the process to raise for the world’s first commercial space station. So when I’ve said publicly we have companies that are accelerating like you’ve never seen before, that’s an example of one of them.
Meb: Axiom, for the listeners, we talked a little bit about it on the last pod. So you can go back to, I think it was episode 233. But tell us a little bit about what Axiom does because I remember seeing…invested alongside you in 2018, three years ago in this company. Pretty cool. I mean…
Lisa: And congratulations for making that good move. You will be very happy.
Meb: But what a cool idea, you know, like there are so many ideas like that. I mean, Axiom is literally building commercial space station, like you said, and then that sounds so fantastical. Like most people, I feel like a start-up can’t do that. Like that’s got to be like Boeing, or Lockheed, or the U.S. government, right?
Lisa: And that is the challenge when you meet a new team saying they want to do something big and bold. That’s what we look for. But beyond that, it’s an unparalleled team that needs to execute on visions like a bold vision, like building the world’s first commercial space station, especially if you look up the existing ISS in the Wikipedia, you’ll see it’s the most expensive project ever attempted in human history. I forget how many billions was sent on it or trillions. I don’t know. But the space station will exist after it’s built. The new modules are attached to the existing international space station. And the proof points that happened this year were their partners, SpaceX having the launch, lots of Crew Dragon Capsule with Bob and Doug going to the ISS. So the proof point was SpaceX being able to deliver our astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil. That was a big thing to celebrate and a thing to celebrate for Axiom investors because SpaceX is their partner for taking the astronauts that they will train, the private astronauts that they will train to the space station.
So just kind of a point of demarcation as that SpaceX can take astronauts in the Crew capsule to the space station but they cannot host them on the space station. Axiom has that exclusive right, which is wonderful. So there are other astronauts SpaceX has contracted with to do an orbital mission with so they can fly around but they can’t dock and be on the space station. So Axiom announced their first flights in 2022. They have three astronauts, they’ll be taken to the space station. They have other missions that will happen after that with some really exciting people going to space. And so you start to see commercialization opening up because it’s $55 million a ticket to do these missions. And for a company that wants to build a space station, they not only need the government contracts for the modules that they’re building, which they’re winning grants and things like that to help enable, but separately, that they’re going to have money in the bank from the services they provide by training astronauts and hosting them on the space station.
Meb: Man. Exciting times we live in. I feel like a lot of people, you know, with where the public markets are and the progress of some of these companies, there’s also the excitement but some people would be worried that it’s getting into almost too much of euphoria with the SPAC situation. I mean, another ETF just came out from Ark & Co. What’s your general view? Is it a time that things are running too far that…in the public markets is kind of what I’m referring to here. Any general thoughts on what the vibe is?
Lisa: Definitely using caution is key and understanding what you’re investing in and who you’re investing with and having some insights is really essential. With the SPACs, what’s interesting is in some way you could argue that anyone could make money because we know it’s going to launch at $10 and likely going to go up from there. So if it launches in there, so euphoria that a new space company has launched and you’re buying those shares, you could make a big bed and buy some money and sell and have some early gains. But what is it going to do after that? What is the long-term value of that company, I think, is what remains to be seen. So, yes, there’s money to be made if you want to just play the market, but we’re talking about growing industries here. And so I’ve looked at the facts that are out there.
I will say that there are some very glossy decks. And I think that the value of the SPAC is that it is on future opportunities, but in some cases, are those future opportunities really going to come through to fruition? I’m not so sure there’s the challenge of can they take all the money that they’re raising and make these visions happen? Do they have a strategy to do it? Will they achieve it? And when? So those are the questions that I would have for some of the SPACs that are out there now. I currently am not invested in any of them. I’m more interested in the SPACs that are coming up next with the new wave. I think that you have some older companies that have SPAC’d and they’ll use those dollars to try and innovate and grow, but the newer ones that will SPAC next will be the ones that I’ll be watching more closely.
For Arc invest, I did think… I feel like I’m a kindred spirit with Cathy Wood because our strategies are so aligned. She’s looking at frontier technology in space that is Hemisphere’s focused. We are investors in synthetic biology. So new materials, robotics, drones, and space sectors, so is she. And her first fund that came out yesterday for space, right now, what can you invest in when the new space companies technically are not public companies yet? But what you can invest in, what I was looking at in her list of companies is some of the existing aerospace companies, some of the materials companies, structural engineering firms, so that the industrial companies that have materials have engineering. Those are in her portfolio. And I think the good thing is she has the ETF out there to evolve it over time. So as these quality companies start existing, she can absorb them and it will probably be a good fund long-term. But I do have some concern about the really non-correlative issues in the market right now in terms of value and I think that will continue in space where people are excited to be in it, but the caution there is will the profits be there to support the valuations?
Meb: It’s an interesting dichotomy of the public and private markets having kind of followed the space for the last four or five years. On the private side, it feels like it has a very different composition than the public markets do. I was smiling as I had a look through the Arc holdings because they had Netflix in there and I was trying to figure out how in the world you could get a… I was like, well maybe, you know, the early days in space, there’s not going to be much to do. You can watch Netflix on the moon. I don’t know. But it’s just like many industries, you know, that are growing and emerging. Like you said, I think a lot of the composition will look different in five years as you have new companies go public in SPAC as well.
Lisa: Yeah. Exactly. I remember seeing, I think to so systems, which is looking at future engineering capabilities and trying to enable that. I believe they were working on a plan to have new technology, kind of innovation centres. So they are a forward-thinking company. There are forward-thinking companies in there. There just isn’t a company yet that’s part of the disruptive space economy, which is the earlier stage companies that I work with.
Meb: So last time we chatted a bit about some really fun companies. I know Umbra, PlanetIQ. Any others that have been crossing your plate you want to chat about?
Lisa: Absolutely. And Umbra is doing phenomenally well. They’re going to launch this year and couldn’t be more excited about their synthetic aperture radar capability. They recently announced they have approval now for the imagery to be even higher resolution than 25 centimeters. So you could basically see the detail on a Coke can from space. Really exciting, mind-blowing capability. But separately, we have a company that’s called LINK Global that I thought I might mention because I think people that talk about space don’t often understand it and people think that Starlink is going to provide cell phone connectivity, and they are not. There are companies that also claim AST, which is backing claims they’re going to provide cell phone connectivity. And I would argue that that will be quite a challenge, especially since NASA does not approve of their plan. The LINK Global allows you to have connectivity with an unmodified cell phone.
And it’s quite extraordinary because when you’re in a airport lounge, way back before COVID when we travelled and you’re in an airport lounge and you’re trying to get connectivity, your phone is showing you the available networks. It automatically shows you the available networks. LINK will do that when its satellite flies overhead. So suddenly you could not only send a text message, which will be sent without any delay because you’re not in an urban canyon, there’s no interference between you and the satellite. It’s just you, the air, and then the satellite and it’s a way that you could get weather warnings, advanced weather warnings, because they could all be broadcast. Really important to start there. And they’ve already proven that they have four satellites operating now and they will expand. And I think there will be a lot more to follow where that came from. But I think people don’t understand that Starlink is using a $500 dish and provides Internet connectivity in the home or perhaps on an RV that has a dish on top of it. So very, very different. And we’re just really thrilled with the capability LINK provides. And that’s one to watch.
Meb: Fun. Where do you guys stand on the Hemisphere side? You guys have one fund, two funds, raising a third fund? I feel like if you’re an investor, you’re always raising new funds. What are you guys up to here?
Lisa: Always be raising, right? Well, I have a waitlist, Meb. I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I’m a very busy woman. As you know, we have a space company, Xplore, that I can mention later, but I have a waitlist for Hemisphere’s fund too. The reason for that, not only, it’s not just I’m busy, it’s that I want to give investors functionality that they haven’t had before. And there’s a lot of opportunity in the space where we’re seeing back-office operations where you can buy and sell shares. And I think investors deserve that ability. We also are very cognizant of the fee structures and things like that. We like it to be friendly to investors. So there are a lot of reasons. There are also communities that are being developed in addition to funds. So some investors like that where they can be on a slack channel, for example, talking about the investments being made in the fund. And I think that appeals to us most because we really believe in the democratization of investing and we want to help inform and then educate our audience about the space sector so that we grow the ecosystem for that. So more to come there, but hemisphere.com is where to get in touch if there’s interest.
Meb: What’s the format for investors? Is it traditional fund? Is it rolling fund, on angel list? Do you guys do SPVs? What’s the main way you work with investors?
Lisa: Yeah. We are not doing a rolling fund because it seems that with the fee structure for that, it’s ideal for LPs that are…sorry. For fund leads that are constantly pushing the next deal, the next deal, next deal. That is not us. We are very curated. We are building relationships with every company, and so it’s fewer deals in our view because we have more skin in the game. It’s less deals, but we feel very strongly about the diligence process and the quality. I’m not saying that there isn’t on the other side, but just for our case of investing, a traditional strong fund structure would be better where it’s going to be maybe 14 to 20 deals in the fund. And we have organic deal flow because of our extraordinary relationships in the sector. Hemisphere was listed as a top VC in space and we have now 25 companies in our space portfolio.
Meb: Wow. And what are you guys looking for on the horizon as far as new ideas, new companies? Anything particularly excited about? Any open spaces that you’re just waiting for somebody to launch company in? What’s coming across the platter?
Lisa: Well, I will tell you what we’re not looking at as launch. I really don’t understand. There are 168 or more launch companies and people emailing me every day, asking me to invest in launch. And, no. Even the other day I heard Anthony Pompliano saying SpaceX makes a billion dollars a launch. And no, they do not, Anthony Pompliano. They make $60 million, I think for a launch, but it’s not a billion dollars. This is not where the revenues come from in the space industry. So people need to, I think, learn a little more about that. So we’re looking for, you know, where is the revenue being generated? It’s going to be from the sensors, from the data people bring back. There are companies working on highly capable sensors, PlanetIQ being one of those companies with weather forecasting capabilities, and they are launching this year. So we’re really excited to see that. There are more sensor companies coming out with hyperspectral and multi-spectral imaging. That is an important part of the space ecosystem. So we like that. Collision avoidance, some companies working on national security, support for national securities with space domain awareness, all of that is important.
Meb: Good. Well, space founders, you can reach out to Lisa. Don’t hit me up. Reach out straight to Lisa if you got to do to the next billion-dollar space idea.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. And the companies that we invest in, because of the SPAC craze, I just want to point out, they’re being fuelled forward faster than we’ve ever seen before. So we’ve seen the roll-ups happening. So last time we talked I might’ve mentioned our company Made In Space was acquired by Redwire. And then I think it was last week, there’s a SPAC now for Redwire. So Redwire acquired positions in multiple space companies and then brought the valuation to a point where they could SPAC. So I think we will see more of that happening and hopefully more of a strategic build-out of these companies to build a valuable entity in the long run.
Meb: I’ve seen you mention before this concept of ESG as applied to space. My first impression would be that space, in general, would be a very potential complicated ESG story, but maybe it’s not. Talk to us a little bit about what that means to this particular industry and sector.
Lisa: Thank you. Yeah. The low Earth-orbiting companies right now, that’s the most of the commercial activity is in low Earth orbit, and they have the ability to do climate monitoring. So if we think about Tesla and the money they make every year on carbon credits, it’s an automatic money-maker for them. So if you have a company that’s gathering the data for a precision data on carbon capture, on methane, on water usage, this is the future. So that kind of data is really important and more companies are popping up that are analyzing that data. And so what I’ve seen is that ESG impact…I know there are different, but impact investors looking at companies that are monitoring the climate and solutions for that. But they haven’t really been looking at the companies that actually are the space companies getting the data. So I’m waiting to see the impact investors going the next level out, which is not just the companies using USG data, pre-data from our Landsat, for example, but data from companies that’s more precise.
So even the insurance companies, and this is maybe just sort of following that path of getting precise data, they have wineries that maybe have drought or have damage to their crops. And right now a winery can say, “We have all this damage,” but how do they precisely measure exactly the acreage and the areas that are damaged. Well, with the types of imaging you can get from space, you can accurately measure what’s been damaged. So insurance companies like that to say, “Oh, well, I only have to pay for this much of your crop, not your entire crop.” And I think for the companies that are trying to apply, the ag companies that want to apply for water credits, methane credits, carbon credits, they need to be thinking about getting accurate measurements and maybe even going the next step to the companies that have data that is not provided publicly right now.
Meb: Will the actual space companies be beneficiary? Is it potential credits? Is that even a possibility or is it more of a…
Lisa: They’re enabling. They would be enabling the clients. I mean, I always say that I believe in the next 5 to 10 years, that every company seeking to have an edge will have a space strategy. So if your strategy is just buying data that’s available, you could be going another level up and actually in the future, hosting your own missions because with a company like my company, Xplore, which offers space as a service, you can design a mission, have an instrument flown for you to bring your data back to benefit your company. So this is where I see the trillion-dollar economy expanding, is really smart companies saying, “Oh, do you mean I can fly an instrument? I can bring my data back and leverage that to learn more about my business?” Because I know about my water usage, I know about the ground soil, I know about the temperatures, all of that is going to be very important to ad companies, cattle companies. It’s going to happen in its early days, but I think the smartest CEOs should be looking in that direction.
Meb: Give us an update. That’s a good segue. You’re not only an investor, but also an operator, Xplore. Remind the listeners who didn’t hear the last episode, what is Xplore, what are you guys up to? And then for the ones who did hear the last episode, give some updates. What’s the progress been since last summer?
Lisa: Thank you. Yeah. So Xplore is a commercial space company based in the Seattle area. And we are offering space as a service. We are offering the ability to send a payload to space and to operate those missions for our customers. So it’s really enabling new types of missions, unique missions. And I would point out that these are highly capable missions. In the past, cube sets have been flown. Those are experimental. We have a vehicle that can do many missions for customers with extraordinary instruments and very large instruments. So it is disruptive in that way. And contact us to find out more. We’re very stealthy. But I think I did mention on our last podcast that within six months of sharing what we do with customers, we secured contracts with the trifecta of government customers, which is NOAA, our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors space weather, very interested in space weather and the capabilities we can provide for advanced monitoring systems so we can have morning of coronal mass ejections and basically solar events that can hit the earth and damage our electric grid. Insurance companies, very interested in that.
And then NASA, we have a phase three award in partnership with the NASA JPL on the aerospace corporation where we’re working on one of the most advanced spacecraft that we are developing for them so that they can image an exoplanet. So we have the light craft, which we have a page on our website about the light craft, many videos. I welcome everyone to watch them. We have had something like 250,000 views of just one of our videos on light craft. And you have to understand just how advanced… You have to watch the video to understand just how far it could go into the solar system and why this capability is amazing because it requires no propulsion whatsoever other than the photons from the sun. And then separately, so it’s NASA, NOAA, JPL Aerospace, and then we have our contracts with the air force where we’re building out the architecture for CIS lunar space. Basically, this is building out an architecture that’s like GPS at the moon. So we need to know where we’re positioned when we’re beyond earth orbit and this can help us do that. And so the air force is very excited about working with us on building out that infrastructure. We’ve added tremendous advisers to Xplore. If I can give a shout out, Rob Meyerson, the founder and former president of Blue Origin with Jeff Bezos, he helped build that out. Alan Stern who was the PI on New Horizons mission to Pluto and other extraordinary people. And as well, we are hiring. Our team is growing. We’ve got positions for CFOs, accounting managers, mechanical engineers, flight software engineers, avionics software engineers, senior electrical engineers. So HR managers, you name it, the team is growing and would love your brilliant audience members to ping us at Xplore Careers to apply.
Meb: Yeah. It’s super fun playing around your website, that’s X-P-L-O-R-E-Dot-Com, listeners. And, Lisa, why’d you pick Saturn as your bio planet? Do you have a special relationship to Saturn or just, you know, what?
Lisa: I’m fascinated by Saturn because I’ve seen it through…at the observatory, at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, we’ve been up there observing it. And when you look through the telescope, it’s the size of the nail of my pinkie. On my pinkie, it’s so small when you look through it on a telescope and it looks as perfect as that image on the website. It’s so unusual. And I’ve watched the documentaries about the rings and they look like they’re on a single plane. And what you find out is that there are formations, what looks to us like a ring that is like buildings. If you ever look at the topography of that, it’s really fascinating. So I am fascinated by Saturn. Thanks for mentioning that. It’s the hardest question people have when they’re hired by us, is take your planet. And they say, “Wow. This is the most important decision I have to make for your website, is what planet do I choose?”
Meb: It says a lot of value, a lot of pressure, what you associate with. And so Xplore is the main customer. Is it going to be governmental? Is it going to be corporate? Is it kind of wide open at this point?
Lisa: Well, our goal is to accelerate science and to develop missions for a wide variety of customers. And so having that diversity of a customer base is phenomenal because we can work with certainly civilian space agencies, national space agencies, sovereigns, national security customers, etc, universities, NGOs. Anyone can go to space with Xplore. And what’s unique is that while all the space companies right now are focused on low Earth orbit, our spacecraft can go beyond earth orbit to the moon, Mars, Venus, near-earth, asteroids, all the way up to series and possibly farther, given the light craft and its capabilities, which you’ll have to watch the video on.
Meb: Yeah. What’s the time horizon for this sort of missions? Is it this decade? Is it going to be staggered for all the different ones going on? How do you guys plan it out?
Lisa: We have a very large pipeline right now of working with our customers and I think you’re going to learn more in 2022.
Meb: Good year, man. Well, we got to get through 2021 first. We had a pandemic and who knows, this year’s only one-quarter done. It feels like a long one already. But the challenges of this build-out is it… I mean, I imagine the timeline. It’s almost like bringing a pharmaceutical to market where you’re looking at, “Hey, this is the steps we have to take and it’s going to have to hit these milestones,” what you’re probably literally planning out over the course of multiple years, probably even 10, I imagine?
Lisa: We have a pipeline that’s very long because there are opportunities for missions that will happen that we know about because of the solar cycles, because of asteroids coming near the earth and affecting the tides, possibly national security. You don’t know, emergency disaster situations. People don’t think, you know, we’ve been living through this pandemic and you’d think things could never get worse. And yet if you look up the Carrington event, 1859, I think it was, that’s when all communication was disabled on the earth because of a solar event. So could things get worse? You know, they could, and we just have to be grateful for today.
Meb: What ideas would you like to see come across your plate that you’re not seeing? Is there anything in particular where you’re like, “Meb, either at Xplore, we’d really like to do this and we just don’t have any governments or billionaires ready to fund it, but I would love to see this happening.”? Or as investors, is there like something where you’re like, “Wow. I really wish someone should do this. We just haven’t seen the right company and team yet. Anything sort of fall in those categories?”
Lisa: It’s a good question because I think what’s happening, what we’re seeing in the sector is that family offices, institutional investors, billionaires, hedge fund billionaires, any kind of investor whale wants to be involved in space. We have artists, creative artists, musicians, people that are understanding that they could have a custom mission and wanting to learn more about that, separately wanting to invest in that. So there’s a bit of leapfrogging happening. I’ve never seen the likes of it where you go from the angel investor groups where they say, you know, “I want to invest small amounts in an early-stage company” to being at an early stage and having billionaires saying, “I want to take up that entire round.” So that is happening left and right. In the SPAC world, they get a whiff that there’s a SPAC happening. They want to be involved in the promote shares.
They get a whiff of an early-stage company and say, “I get emails every day saying I want to have a position in space.” And I have to call and I say, “When you say you want to have a position in space, are you saying you want to invest X millions of dollars and where would I recommend putting it?” And usually, the answer is yes. And so it’s not just, could I put my money in this, but what if I wanted to run my own mission? What would that take? And so that’s been fascinating to me, is people realize that they can really skip a step here and design a mission, and that we have the team that can help them design their own mission that could be very significant for corporations as well as individuals and creatives.
Meb: Sorry, I’m just thinking of missions in my head right now as you’re talking. I’m like, “What would be fun to think about in true science fiction fashion?” Are there any that cross your plate where you’re like, “Oh, God, that’s so cool, but we’re not there yet, too outlandish?”
Lisa: Well, I think that designing mission is about expanding your human footprint. If you’re not a scientist or you’re not a company saying I need this data, it’s about what can I do that’s meaningful and significant that will generate a larger audience by sending this mission to space? So some non-for-profits are saying, for example, the art commission, that’s the partner with Xplore. They want to send the libraries of human civilization and have these libraries sent all over and they have one in the… Tesla is flying in deep space right now and they’re going to send one with Xplore. So they want to have civilizations knowledge sent to space. And that’s significant. Other non-for-profits say, “If I send a mission, will I enable STEM education because I can have these young boys, girls, underprivileged youth, what have you, participating in that mission to space with Xplore?”
So there’s the larger meaning here that can be expanded because of the footprint that’s been created with the space mission. So there are a lot of different levels here on why people want to go. Certainly, the research institutions want to go, they want to send science missions. Human tissue has never been beyond the ISS to my knowledge. So they want to experience what can human tissue do? What kind of radiation would it experience? How do we look at how cells are modified as they go deeper into the solar system? There are so many unanswered questions that I think it’s really the gamut of opportunities here.
Meb: I like that you clarify that to my knowledge human tissue has never been sent because I feel like we’re entering this point in the not-too-distant future where individuals and companies will soon have the capability to enact a number of these missions. I don’t want to say without the permission of, but independently of government bodies. Reminds me of contact when…and I can’t remember any of the people’s names, the movie, but the bald guy that’s starting to resemble Bezos, but he flies around in his plane and he builds a competing structure versus the government and he like just builds his own. I feel like we’re probably, I don’t know, a couple of decades, maybe not even from the possibility of these existing, totally independently of government and sort of people doing these missions on their own. Is that an outlandish idea?
Lisa: I think that the missions that are sent all have to have checks and balances. I don’t have a great concern there because there’s regulatory issues involved in sending any mission to space. I think that, for me, the tissue project is important because if you hear Elon on a podcast, he’s saying, you know, “We’re going to go to Mars and we’re going to land there.” And, of course, we will. I don’t know when, but the point is we need to bring back data on these environments to understand how safe these environments are and how we need to survive in these environments. So there’s a real need for that information even for the higher level imagery to identify landing sites, for example. You want to land safely, so you can bring back elevation data and you can have a high-resolution mapping. That’s what’s needed first before we put people on boots on the ground. So it’s going to happen, but that’s one of the reasons Xplore is doing orbital missions and not a lander. The orbital missions allow us to survey the area. Landing is much harder.
Meb: How do you guys accomplish all of this on your side? Is this self-funded? Is it VC-funded? Is it…what?
Lisa: We are well-funded and we have not announced that formally. We may. Not sure that we will. It’s debated. So that’s how we’re able to hire and grow the business. And as well, you know, we’ve announced that we have a few customers, we have many more on the way, and we just like being quiet about what we do. It allows us to focus and not be distracted because there are certainly a lot of distractions out there and we’re not a business that operates on FOMO. We’re a business that operates on strategy.
Meb: Yeah. Listeners, if you end up booking a human flight with Xplore to the outer reaches of the solar system, save me a jump seat for the introduction in 10 years. I’ll join. What else is on your brain, Lisa? What are you thinking about as ’21 cruises along? You got a lot on your plate between investing and operating a space company. Anything else that you’re thinking about, excited about, worried about, everything in between?
Lisa: Well, I think that I am excited about the SPAC environment and how it will contribute to companies that are ready to SPAC and others that will pursue the path to IPO. I’m encouraged by it. I think that the space sector has a real moment here. You know, I survived the 90s as a small investor. I mean, I barely had the money, right? In the 90s, I was so young. But, you know, the dot-com era was upon us and how many of those dot-coms came out to be winners and how many came out to be losers? I think we’re sort of seeing that today and we’ll see that. My hope is that we have a lot of great companies emerging that will expand the space ecosystem and will help everyone that’s investing profit from it and be more interested and want to be more involved.
Meb: Yeah. Listeners would not have seen this, but your cat Nova made an appearance. Is that related to the TV show, the comic book, what?
Lisa: Well, Nova means brilliant star and her name is Nova officially, but her nickname is Rambo because she is really a rambunctious little thing and she’s absolutely precious. So. But she’s a precious little star and boy, I could have a show on her. I mean, anything online with kittens, I think warms everyone’s heart. And right now, since we’re still hibernating with COVID, hopefully not for too much longer, I don’t see vaccinations opening up just yet for just anyone in the Seattle area, but I’m hoping that happens very soon.
Meb: Fingers crossed. I feel like we’re maybe a month away from a U.S. spring break. Global, maybe a little longer, but it seems like it’s already happening in places of the world. It’s like 80 degrees in Los Angeles today. I think everyone is ready to get out and about if that’s the vibe.
Lisa: And in the space sector, especially, it’s been a reset because we are used to travelling everywhere all the time. There are conferences all over the world. The International Astronautical Congress also called IAC is happening in Dubai this year. And will we be there? Well, I don’t know.
Meb: So for investors who are interested, is that like the main event? Are there a couple of them? Are there anything like any general space resources that come to mind for people that as the world reopens want to get involved and start a little more?
Lisa: Yeah. The new space event in Seattle is held every year, and that’s a great event, I think for anyone wanting to dip their toe in the water. The IAC event is honestly like being an Epcot where you go from Italy to Switzerland and you just cross the street because all of the international space agencies are there, all of the space companies are there, but it’s also a technical event and 3000 people or more usually attend. And there are technical sessions where they’re reviewing papers and studies. And so investors wouldn’t really be involved in that. They could walk the halls and see what the space agencies learn about space by being there.
Meb: Cool. What’s the best place, Lisa? People want to find out more, what you guys are up to. Where do they go? Investor side, company side?
Lisa: Investor side. So hemisphere.com. We’ve got Hit the Enquire button and We’ll Get Back to You. And then Xplore, please visit xplore.com to learn about the careers we have. And I will say, you know, we are stealthy. So if you’re looking to understand our strategy from our website, you probably will not. You would have to be behind the scenes learning more about us.
Meb: Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today.
Lisa: Thanks, Meb. Great to chat with you always and appreciate you having me.
Meb: Podcast listeners, we’ll post show notes to today’s conversation at medfaber.com/podcast. If you love the show, if you hate it, shoot us feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love to read the reviews. Please review us on iTunes and subscribe to the show anywhere good podcasts are found. Thanks for listening, friends, and good investing.