As many of you have seen elsewhere on Twitter, Hobbyspace, and Parabolic Arc, Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 first-place prize at the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan Competition this past weekend out in Silicon Valley. I was going to wait for the formal press release to be ready, or at least a link to the video of my pitch, but since both of those are taking a while I wanted to give some informal thoughts about the business plan competition first.
Business Plan Development Sprint
Someone asked me a few months ago what we’d do for our next sprint, now that we had flown the Zero-G experiment. Based on some thoughts I had reading our now-Acting-CTO’s book “The Inventor’s Puzzle“, and from watching Jeff Greason’s ISDC talk, I realized we had reached the point where we needed to clarify Altus’s business strategy. Our Sticky Boom™ technology was cool, and could be used to solve a lot of customer problems, but I didn’t have an elevator pitch where I could quickly and clearly communicate what Altius was trying to achieve as a business. So, we decided to do the sprint, pulled together a team of five of us (me, Bill Bolton our now VP of Marketing and Sales, Colin from the Space Business Blog, and Thomas Card and Dewayne Davenport from The DC Group), and tossed our hat into the ring.
Our goals in this sprint were first off, to put together a business plan good enough to make it to the finals, second off to learn as much as we could from the bootcamp, third to pitch our business in front of seasoned investors and get their feedback and questions, and fourth, yeah we’ll admit that the money was sort of tempting as well.
It took us a lot of hard work and iteration to finally close-in on a solid story that clearly identified who the customer was (which in this case is not the same as the end user), what they needed, what specifically would they pay us for and how much, why us, who our competitors were, what is our competitive advantage and how will we protect it, how big of a pot of gold were we talking about at the end of the rainbow, how we were going to get there, how we were going to make sure our customers knew we existed and then convince them that they really want to buy from us, what our exit strategy was, what sort of ROI could an investor expect, and what were the big risks we had identified and how did we plan to mitigate or deal with those risks. While any business plan is a work in progress that will likely change drastically over the course of execution, I’m pretty darned happy what my team came up with. The elevator pitch I gave at the start of my pitch last Friday went something like:
“Altius is developing a solution that enables nanosat launch vehicles to deliver small, just-in-time packages directly to the station. Not only does this open a huge new market for nanosat launch developers, but it also enables us to achieve $20-70M in annual commercial revenue once scaled-up to full commercial operations, and more importantly enable us to change the way space deliveries are made forever.”
I’m very happy with how this business plan sprint went. Not just because of winning the prize, but also because we now have a much clearer story of what we’re trying to accomplish, we’ve had a chance to publicly present that story, and we now have a much clearer internal vision of where we need to be focusing our efforts.
Some Credit Where Credit is Due
In addition to Bill, Colin, Tom, and DeWayne, and all the people at the Space Frontier Foundation who put on the competition, I’d like to call out a few people specifically for credit.
First, I’d like to thank the people who ran the Business Plan Competition and the bootcamp (Tom Olson, Joel Vinas, Liz, Amaresh, Dr Livingston, Shubber Ali, Bob Werb, etc), especially Shubber. Far more valuable than prizes or recognition is solid feedback and criticism, and Shubber’s insights really helped us hone in on our message. I’d rather have someone shoot holes in my plan in person than to get up in front of a potential investor and look like a doofus. I’m particularly grateful to Shubber because he came out to help even though he was in the middle of a cross-country move.
Second, I’d like to thank the judges: Hoyt Davidson of Near Earth LLC, Amaresh Kollipara of Earth2Orbit LLC, Steven Goldberg of Venrock, Xander Mahony of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and the lady from Excalibur Almaz that subbed in for Art Dula (sorry I didn’t catch her name in the blur that morning). One of the reasons we did this sprint was to get the feedback and questions that experienced investors bring to the table, and the judges didn’t disappoint at all on that account.
Third, I’d like to thank our acting CTO, Mark Lake, and my fellow “Vaultians” Eric Cecil, Steve Campbell, Dewayne Nesmith, for all the feedback, suggestions, and letting me practice my pitch dozens of times over the days leading up to the finals.
Lastly, I want to thank those who are “to blame” for this whole effort–Jeff Greason for getting me to start thinking about what our goals and strategy are, and getting me to realize that solving the space delivery problem was a goal worthy of me focusing my next half a decade on, Josh Hopkins (of Lockheed Martin’s “Plymouth Rock” fame) for writing the Space Review article that led to me inventing Sticky Boom and our Direct to Station delivery idea, Mike Loucks (a flight dynamics officer for LADEE, IBEX, and several other spacecraft missions) for talking me through how Sticky Boom could work with space stations prox ops, Ian Garcia (now with Moon Express) and Dr David Geller of Utah State for fleshing out the idea enough to make it practical, and Joe Carroll, for cluing me in several years ago about the importance of just-in-time deliveries to (and from) station to space station end users.
More updates to come when the press releases and pitch videos are ready, and I’ll also be posting more details over the coming months about our Direct to Station (D2S) delivery solution, and why it matters to nanosat launch providers, space station operations, and space station end users.
[Update 8/5/11: Here’s our formal press release on PRNewswire:
Altius Space Machines Wins NewSpace Business Plan Competition
LOUISVILLE, Colo., Aug. 5, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — On July 30th, Altius Space Machines won the $25,000 grand prize in the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan Competition, hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation. Altius’ winning business plan focused on their “Direct to Station” space station delivery solution.
Jonathan Goff, Altius CEO, stated: “We are thrilled that our hard work for this competition paid off, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to publicly present our space station delivery solution.” Direct to Station enables developers of very small satellite (“nanosat”) launch vehicles to provide just-in-time, small-package deliveries to the International Space Station.
“This solution opens up a large new market for nanosat launch providers, who were previously unable to access the ISS because legacy space station delivery systems do not scale down well to nanosat size. Our solution also enables the space station to function more competitively as a world-class research facility,” said Goff. “Ultimately, Direct to Station will change the way space station deliveries are done forever.”
A key part of the Direct to Station delivery concept is the Sticky Boom™ docking technology being developed by Altius and SRI International. Sticky Boom™, which incorporates SRI’s patented electroadhesion technology at the end of a long deployable boom, can stick to any surface in space, from spacecraft to asteroids. In addition to simplifying space station deliveries, this technology can aid satellite servicing, robotic asteroid missions and space junk disposal.
About Altius Space Machines, Inc.
Altius Space Machines is a Louisville, Colorado-based space technology company founded with the goal of reducing the barriers to space commerce. Altius is currently developing rendezvous and docking solutions using its Sticky Boom™ non-cooperative capture technology, for space stations and propellant depots, manned spaceflight, satellite servicing, and other applications. For more information visit www.altius-space.com
About SRI International
Silicon Valley-based SRI International, a nonprofit research and development organization, performs sponsored R&D for governments, businesses, and foundations. SRI brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, new products, and spin-off ventures. Commemorating its 65th anniversary in 2011, SRI is known for world-changing innovations in computing, health and pharmaceuticals, chemistry and materials, sensing, energy, education, national defense, and more. For more information visit www.sri.com
Altius Space Machines
SOURCE Altius Space Machines, Inc. ]