Beyond exits: Founders look back on the creation and sale of startups in space

In recent commercial space property purchases, entrepreneurs have primarily stayed with the companies they founded or gone on to join new space agencies. Doug Campbell, who serves as the co-founder of Roccor, and Scott Larson, who co-was the co-founder of a space company named UrtheCast and Helios Wire, are two exceptions. Since their startups were bought, both of them left the space business altogether. Campbell was the only executive of Roccor to quit when Redwire, a venture set up in June to buy up a range of smaller space firms, bought the Longmont, Colorado firm in the month of October. Campbell, who worked as Chief executive of Roccor until 2018, is now working full time as CEO of Solid Power, a company that he formed in 2012 specifically for automobile applications to produce solid-state rechargeable batteries.

Campbell added, “Redwire wanted to maintain the current executive management team.” “I was just the secretary of the board. They no longer wanted me.” After EchoStar spent $26 million to buy Helios Wire, an Internet-of-things company, Larson left the space industry in the year 2019. Larson currently works as the interim president of the 1999-established Canadian drone maker, Draganfly. “I do not even think we would’ve pursued it,” said Campbell, if Redwire executives had confronted Roccor with a proposal to acquire the firm as well as replace the existing executive management team.

Instead, Redwire recommended purchasing Roccor and encouraging the company to remain working. At the same time, Redwire management discussed ways to improve the market of Roccor by exploiting goods and services from the other portfolio companies of the company. That made the proposition attractive, said Campbell. Between 2013, when it was able to go public through a special purpose takeover firm, UrtheCast stock got publicly traded on Toronto stock exchange. In the year 2020, when UrtheCast applied for creditor protection to escape bankruptcy. Helios Wire had been an Internet of Things enterprise whose crowning achievement was the S-band frequency priority mobile satellite system. In order to help clients monitor and connect with billions of devices globally, Helios Wire intended to use the spectrum. 

“We had such an alternative: to stick with it and try to push the strategic plan along or even sell it and give the shareholders a return,” stated Larson.  “The stakeholders made a concerted effort to be able to sell the EchoStar Helios Wire, and they were enthusiastic about it.” “Roccor enjoyed the fact that the small satellite constellations did not have an established supplier base,” stated Campbell. “In that medium place, among the large geostationary satellites as well as smaller cubesats, there was really no Lockheed Martin or Boeing or even equivalent.”