In concert with an established entrepreneurial community, Seattle has become a premier cluster for raising capital– particularly for private space industries. For more than a decade, the city has quietly hosted several of the world’s most well-funded private space ventures and just today, Elon Musk announced plans for a Seattle office for Mars colonization.
Participants at Startup Weekend Space.
Seattle has nurtured such celebrated brands as Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon, but it owes its reputation as the ‘Jet City’ to an older, innovative local: Boeing. Boeing became a cornerstone for Seattle’s economy through funding advances in human air travel, and through its continuing investments in human flight, the company remains close to the Seattle’s current renaissance in jet technology.
“Seattle is a great place to start a space business,” Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources said at an August fundraiser. “There’s a confluence of high-tech hardware and software communities, and a highly educated workforce [in Seattle].”
“I like to call Seattle, ‘Silicon Valley light.’”
Planetary Resources, a company researching the technology necessary for mineral retrieval from space, is located east of Seattle, near Microsoft. Anderson also helped found Space Adventures in 1997, the first private-sector company to successfully brokerage space tourism. The company’s first client, Dennis Tito, paid $20 million for six days in space.
Founded in 2010, Planetary Resources has attracted such billionaire investors as Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, and Charles Simonyi (the only private citizen to travel recreationally into space, twice) to the idea of mining in space.
Anderson said that Seattle– like Silicon Valley– has a powerful combination of available capital and innovative culture. Anderson cited the relationship between Seattle’s academic and aeronautics communities as a value partnership for the development of space exploration.
Blue Origin, Boeing, and Planetary Resources are all located within a ten-mile radius of the University of Washington, which offers top-tier programming in computer science and medicine, and accounts for thousands of educated residents in Seattle. The area is also home to such influential space investors as Simonyi, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Bill Gates.
With close to $500 million in personal investment from Bezos, Blue Origin intends to design, manufacture, and sell rocket technology to other privatized space organizations over the coming decades.
During the “Space Race”– the famous Cold War subplot of spending and political control of outer space– the US government invested up to five cents from every tax dollar into the development of technologies related to space exploration and research.
Currently, less than half a cent of every tax dollar is used in this way.
Government divestment from space has inspired influential investors from Seattle (and around the world,) to apply their knack for business innovation towards operating privatized industries in the newly underserved markets of space.
“In 2012, for the first time, global government spending in space declined… However, the space industry as a whole expanded due to the exponential growth of emerging commercial space companies,” Chad Anderson, European managing director at Space Angels Network, said. “The growth going forward is expected to continue to come from new commercial business models, entrepreneurs, and startups.”
Based in Seattle, Space Angels Network is a global agency of 50 seed and early-stage investors focused entirely on private-sector space ventures. The organization is the global leader in angel investment for private space startups.
Billionaires Elon Musk (of SpaceX,) and Richard Branson (of Virgin Galactic,) have made well-publicized investments in space technology over the past decade, as well, and have substantiated the possibilities for individual investors in space’s private-sector.
Fostering a Startup and Innovation Ecosystem found that whether businesses are just starting, or trying to scale, access to capital is critical for success. Experienced capital– through billionaire investors or through firms– can really make a difference for new companies. Policy makers can also take proactive measures to make it easier for startups to access the capital required to start and grow businesses.
Through available capital for Seattle’s space companies, the city looks to solidify its status along Houston and Cape Canaveral as global centers for space innovation. Seattle earned its “Jet City” credo from a commitment to building airplanes, and contemporary investors hope to return the city to a leadership role in building jet technology for the future.
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