Entrepreneur

Why This Software Engineering Company Is Making A Big Bet On Space


Last month, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson captured the world’s gaze by each flying to space on spacecraft they’d funded themselves. Both of these historic launches have helped bring to reality the space tourism industry, with hundreds of ticket buyers expected to make their own journeys in the coming years. 

But while billionaires may capture public attention, the real story of the past decade of the space industry lies not in astronauts but in satellites—and the data they’re capable of providing to a wide swathe of industries. In 2020, remote sensing satellite owners and manufacturers pulled in nearly $4 billion in revenue, according to a report from Bryce Tech. These satellites comprise about 17% of the total number of satellites in orbit (communications makes up the bulk), and several of the startups that provide this technology have announced plans to go public this year. 

“What was previously a very high barrier of entry ecosystem has shifted tremendously over the last couple of years,” says Brady Brim-DeForest. “The cost of launch on a per pound basis has decreased tremendously and the miniaturization of satellites, of cubesats and microsats, the capabilities they offer now compared to even three or four years ago is mindblowing.”

Brim-DeForest, 37, sees opportunity in that lowered barrier of entry. That’s why his Los Angeles-based software company, Theorem LLC, announced Tuesday that it’s launching a new business unit, Theorem Orbital, geared towards providing custom software solutions for its customers that make use of the new data on offer to improve their businesses and cut costs. 

“We see space as a major driver of disruption,” Brim-DeForest says. “But in order for our clients to compete, they need help navigating it.”

There are several verticals that can make a lot of use of space-based data, he continues. One of these is the insurance market, where he says Theorem is already working with clients to integrate space-based images into their tech stack. The company’s also helping insurance companies to build proprietary datasets to manage and reduce risk. 

Another vertical that Theorem is targeting is the oil and gas industry, where space based-imaging can be used for early detection of potential maintenance issues and prevent catastrophic failures. Inspections of pipelines now are often done with aerial assets like drones or by humans physically examining pipelines. “We’re layering in additional space-derived imaging data,” Brim-DeForest says. “With everything from radar to multi-spectral analysis, you can start to form this really rich picture of data about your assets and your infrastructure.”

One of the companies that Theorem is partnering with to deliver this date is Montevideo, Uruguay-based satellite imaging company Satellogic. That company, which is set to go public via SPAC later this year, currently has 17 satellites currently in orbit that are capable of delivering different types of imagery, both within the human vision spectrum and beyond it. “Theorem provides us a vessel to reach a wider audience,” says Thomas VanMatre, the company’s VP of global business development. 

“We see space as a major driver of disruption,” Brim-DeForest says. “But in order for our clients to compete, they need help navigating it.”

Theorem was founded in 2007 by Brim-DeForest, Will Jessup, 38, and David Kullmann, 35. The company began life as a pure engineering firm but soon shifted into providing custom software to handle difficult challenges that couldn’t be managed with off-the-shelf solutions. “With the birth of Web 2.0 technologies, there was a lack of talent and a huge amount of demand” in Silicon Valley, Brim-DeForest says. Over time, he says the company has grown to over 250 employees and has seen “significant year-over-year growth” in the past four years. The company expects 2021 revenues to top $70 million. 

The new business unit isn’t the only way that Theorem is aligning itself with space. The company also works with launch companies Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Firefly Aerospace. It’s even made a small space investment of its own, contributing an undisclosed amount to a crowdfunding equity round for Maine-based bluShift Aerospace, which is building rockets that use a bio-based fuel that it claims produces very low carbon emissions. 

The big reason for taking this step, says Brim-DeForest, is because he sees the possibility of disruption by space-based data as akin to the internet in the mid-90s. So his aim is to get his company and its clients ahead of the trend. “I see the absolute necessity for organizations to have a plan for how to leverage space-based infrastructure,” he says. “Because if you’re not doing it, your competitors are going to put you far behind the curve.” 



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