Startup Street: Space Race Funding, Ratan Tata-Backed Unicorn And More

(Source: BloombergQuint)

Startup Street: Space Race Funding, Ratan Tata-Backed Unicorn And More

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Two Indian space startups raised fresh funds as they vie to become the nation’s first private venture to build a commercial rocket to launch satellites.

Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot Aerospace have both raised $11 million each in separate Series A funding. That quantum is the largest funding round closed by any private space-tech company in India.

Chennai-based Agnikul said the funding round was led by Mayfield India and participation from existing investors like pi Ventures, Speciale Invest, Artha Venture Fund and industrialist Anand Mahindra, among others. As part of the funding round, Mayfield’s managing partner Vikram Godse will become a board member at the startup.

Skyroot, which is based out of Hyderabad, saw its funding round led by Greenko Group founders Mahesh Kolli and Anil Kumar Chalamalasetty. The funding round also saw participation from former WhatsApp executive Neeraj Arora, Myntra and CureFit founder Mukesh Bansal, Solar Group, and Worldquant Ventures among others.

Skyroot Aerospace team with Vikram I. (Source: Skyroot)
Skyroot Aerospace team with Vikram I. (Source: Skyroot)

This was also the third funding round for an Indian space-tech firm in the last two months. In March, Bengaluru-based Pixxel had raised $7.3 million as it gears up for the launch of its hyperspectral imaging satellite.

The investments come a year after India laid out the framework for boosting private investments in the country’s space sector. Prior to that, private participation in the space sector was limited to the manufacturing and fabrication of rockets.

The union cabinet, in September 2020, approved forming an arm under the Indian Space Research Organisation that would form policies and guide private companies in space activities. Under the new reforms, private players were also given access to ISRO’s infrastructure, technical resources and data to space programmers.

Moin SPM, Co-Founder & COO (Left) and Srinath Ravichandran, Co-Founder & CEO, Agnikul Cosmos. (Source: Agnikul)
Moin SPM, Co-Founder & COO (Left) and Srinath Ravichandran, Co-Founder & CEO, Agnikul Cosmos. (Source: Agnikul)

While the two startups may be working separately to get their rocket programmes off the ground, they have similar eventual goals: affordable launch vehicles for small satellites.

Agnikul is building a launch vehicle that can take payloads of up to 100 kilograms to low-earth orbit—which is between 160 to 1,000 kilometres above the earth’s surface. The vehicle—called Agnibaan—is customisable and powered by a semi-cryogenic engine. Earlier this year, Agnikul successfully test-fired a fully 3D printed rocket, just a few months after announcing a collaboration with ISRO. The IIT Madras-incubated startup plans to execute its first mission next year.

Skyroot, which is a team that includes a number of former ISRO scientists, is developing a family of launch vehicles named after Vikram Sarabhai that are capable of hurling satellites of varying payloads to space. They claim to offer the lowest costs for lifting small satellites to space. Skyroot plans to start global bookings for its launch vehicle from the middle of next year. The startup, too, is collaborating with ISRO.

In an earlier interaction, Agnikul co-founder Srinath Ravinchandran told BloombergQuint that the ability to make affordable rockets could make India the go-to country for launching small satellites. His guiding principle was straight: “Getting to space shouldn’t be the hardest part of space-faring.”

Also read: Startup Street: Chennai Startup Gets ISRO’s Help In Journey To Space

Ratan Tata Gets Another Unicorn In His Portfolio

The list of startups where business magnate Ratan Tata has invested in, and who have gone on to become unicorns, keeps on growing.

Business-to-business marketplace Moglix raised $120 million in a fresh fundraise led by Falcon Edge Capital and Harvard Management Co., it said in a statement. Existing investors such as Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital India and Venture Highway, too, participated in the round.

The startup has already become the thirteenth unicorn to be minted out of India in 2021. To put it in perspective, it had seven new unicorns last year.

Ratan Tata had invested an undisclosed amount in the startup in 2016. The chairman emeritus of Tata Sons has made some profitable investments in the past few years in startups which have seen their valuations soar.

Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons Ltd., pauses during a forum in Tokyo. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)
Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons Ltd., pauses during a forum in Tokyo. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Last month, Ratan Tata-backed Urban Company joined the unicorn club after raising $190 million. In March, according to an Entrackr report, Tata exited from Lenskart—another unicorn—after having made five times of his original investment. Last year, another of his investments FirstCry had catapulted to a $1-billion-plus valuation.

Tata is also reportedly invested in Paytm, Ola, Snapdeal and Cure.fit.

Insurtech’s Rise In Asia

Insurtech companies have increasingly become the focus of investor attention as they flock towards startups in countries that could see higher adoption of insurance policies.

“China and India are collectively home to nearly half of private insurtech companies in the Asia-Pacific region,” S&P Global Market Intelligence said in a research note. “The two markets will continue to corner the lion’s share of investor interest, thanks to their large and fast-growing insurance markets.”

Of the 335 private insurtech ventures operating in the APAC region, about 122 of them have roots in either China or India. Collectively, these firms have managed to corner 78% of the venture capital invested in insurtech in the region.

Startup Street: Space Race Funding, Ratan Tata-Backed Unicorn And More

“The APAC region, with most of its insurtechs complementing existing carriers, presents a contrast to the U.S., where private capital is skewed toward full-stack companies looking to disrupt the incumbents,” the research note said.

According to S&P, the insurtech startups that will grow the fastest in the region will be those that embrace both offline and online distribution channels.

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