Waterloo-based SkyWatch was among the first startups to recognize that the key to unlocking the real benefits of the space economy lay in making Earth observation data accessible and portable, and now the company has raised a $17.2 million Series B to help it further that goal. Fresh on the heals of a partnership with Poland-based satellite operator SatRevolution, SkyWatch is now set to bridge the gulf between satellite startups and customers in a bigger way as it lowers the barriers to entry for new companies focused on high-tech spacecraft payloads.
The new round of funding was led by new investor Drive Capital, and included participation from existing investors including Bullpen Capital, Space Capital, Golden Ventures and BDC Ventures. SkyWatch CEO and co-founder James Slifierz told me that bringing Drive on was a major win for the Series B.
“Drive is a firm that has actually been researching the space industry for a few years now, and looking for an opportunity that would be their first space technology investment,” he said. “Not their first in the [GTA-Waterloo] area, they’re based out of Columbus, Ohio, made up of Silicon Valley veterans. They were a little early to the trend of believing that a majority of the really interesting and large opportunities would eventually evolve outside of the Bay Area and outside of New York City.”
SkyWatch definitely fits the bill, having built strong revenue pipeline for an Earth observation data platform that makes the information collected by the many observation satellites on orbit accessible to private industry, in a way that doesn’t require re-architecting existing systems or handling huge amounts of data in unfamiliar formats.
This fresh funding will help SkyWatch accelerate the rollout of its TerraStream product, a new platform that the company developed to provide full-service data management, ordering, processing and delivery for satellite companies. This allows SkyWatch to not only make data collected by Earth observation satellites like those operated by SatRevolution accessible to customers — but also to source customers for those companies, too, effectively handling both sales and delivery, which many satellite startups born from a technical or academic background don’t start out equipped to tackle.
“My favorite analogy for TerraStream is it’s Shopify for space companies,” Slifierz said. “It takes away a lot of the complexity of going to market. So if you want to build an amazing shoe brand today, Shopify enables you to not have to worry about the logistics, and shipping, and the inventory management, the website, storefront and all that; it allows you to focus on the things that will build value in your company, which is the quality of your product, and your brand.”
He added that just like Shopify depends on the existence of a rich third-party ecosystem to support its platform, so does SkyWatch, and that ecosystem is only now reaching maturity after years of infrastructure development, including things like the proliferation of launch startups, ground station build out, data warehousing and more.
Ultimately, what SkyWatch provides is the ability to go to market “faster and more profitably,” Slifierz says, which is a major shift for hard tech satellite startups working on new and improved sensor capabilities, often spinning out of research labs at academic institutions.
“The strongest value proposition is that we give you instant access to hundreds of customers, which we’re growing at a very fast pace on the EarthCache [SkyWatch’s commercial satellite imagery marketplace] side. So in that way, we sort of joke, it’s like Shopify for space, but also integrated with the AWS marketplace.”
SkyWatch can also actually help identify demand, by providing satellite-side customers with real data to back up signals of what the market is actually looking for. Slifierz says that’s helped them advise partners on how to tweak their offering to meet a real need, which is beneficial in an industry where research and tech development often lead payload design, with actual demand as a somewhat secondary consideration.