Queensland startup Gilmour Space Technologies has raised $19 million to supercharge its rocket technology for getting satellites into space.
Having worked in banking and corporate sales for 20 years, founder and chief Adam Gilmour tells StartupSmart he’s had experience in a lot of different industries, watching companies that have flourished, as well as those that failed.
He noticed “the space industry was one that was about to really take off”, he says.
Soon, there will be a “huge amount” of satellites being launched into space, he says, with between 5,000 and 10,000 required within the next seven years, or so.
And those satellites will have to be replaced, he adds, meaning they make for “a great ongoing business”.
Previously, there haven’t been enough small rockets available for launching these satellites into space, making them very expensive.
“That’s a deal killer for a lot of satellite companies,” he adds.
With no formal engineering qualifications, Gilmour set about figuring out a way to make rockets cheaper, and “started building the technology from there”.
The startup was founded in 2012, but initially, it created space simulators, with plans to launch an academy. It wasn’t until 2015 that it started working on rockets.
Now it has 30 team members working between Gold Coast and Singapore offices, and will hire 15 to 20 more engineers within the next 12 months.
Gilmour says he hopes to be commercialising the product by 2020.
The $19 million investment is pegged to help him achieve this goal. The funding will be used to “beef up the team”, particularly in navigation and control, he says.
Drawing on his banking experience, Gilmour says he is “reasonably sophisticated in cash-flow management”, and plans for the substantial investment to last the startup for three years.
He’s also planned enough time and money to develop the rocket and test it at least three times.
Some startups will secure only enough funding to test once, he says, “and if that fails, they die”.
The investment will also go into securing a bigger factory, and investing in equipment and materials, Gilmour says.
Australia is seeing a surge in interest in spacetech, particularly since the announcement of the Australian Space Agency in May.
“Investors are definitely interested,” Gilmour says, and there’s no reason Australia can’t lead the global space revolution.
“[Gilmour Space Technologies is] developing a globally significant small launch vehicle … we could develop anything else,” he says.
His ambition is to play a part “to make sure humanity go to space,” he says.
“Human space flight is well on our agenda, exploration of solar system is well on our agenda,” he says.
“We want to be one of the leaders,” he adds.
As a self-taught tech founder, Gilmour’s advice for other founders is to do as much research as possible before commuting to anything.
“Talk to a lot of people, the industry is very open, people are incredibly friendly and communicate well,” he says.
And when pitching to VCs, the trick is in the planning.
With any amount of money, “think about what kind of milestones you can get”.
He also warns that it can take a lot longer than you expect to develop technology, and advises startups to be ready to overcome more challenged than they may first imagine.
“I underestimated how many problems we were going to have,” he says.