DALLAS, Texas ? As the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) wound down Sunday, business practices were on the mind of many speakers. ?There?s too much reliance on the ?coolness factor?,? said Tom Olsen, a partner in Exodus Consulting, a firm that specializes in performing due diligence investigations for venture capitalists.
Instead, he said entrepreneurs need to concentrate on knowing what they are trying to do and solve specific problems, from providing lunar oxygen to future exploration missions to building solar power satellites to approaching venture capitalists.
The ISDC, the 26th conference of its kind, was sponsored by the National Space Society ran here from May 25 to 28.
While the Space Venture Finance Symposium , held Thursday, May 24 in conjunction with ISDC, described how venture capitalists could help space business founders, Olsen went a step further, suggesting behaviors to avoid and tactics to attempt when entrepreneurs meet with investor ?angels? or venture capitalists for the first time. One of the biggest challenges for due diligence investigators like Olsen is the lies people tell in their business plans, from claiming that a larger company is about to make a purchase to ?Some other group is interested in us.?
Space businesses can kill deals with venture capitalists in other ways, like using bogus or questionable market studies, claiming one?s management team is experienced despite lack of past performance, or assuming that one?s company position is unassailable because it has patented intellectual property. ?Mention patents once, and leave it alone. If there?s a dispute with a larger company, they have deeper pockets,? meaning they can fight legal battles longer.
Olsen offered a ?top ten? list of items new space businesses should have ready for when making a presentation to investors or when the investors? due diligence investigators come calling. This documentation includes a description of the problem the business is trying to solve, and its solution; the business model and market plan; and reasonable revenue projections based on specific, known customer markets.
Instead of trying to gain leverage through storytelling, Olsen suggests demonstrating simple business savvy by doing one?s homework, going to offices and getting introductions, and showing success. He believes that arm-twisting or truth-stretching are unnecessary, though he has heard or read them in most of the space business plans he reads. ?If the VC knows it?s a good deal, they?ll want it all to themselves and will try to keep everyone else away.?
This due diligence approach is seeping into the space advocacy community at large. Other presentations on the two-day business track at ISDC concentrated on cost-effective or profit-minded ways to execute satellite launch services, solar power satellites, and lunar propellant services. This business-minded shift from technology to business models reflects the greater influence entrepreneurship is having over future space ventures.
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NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.
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Bart Leahy is a technical writer at Schafer Corporation in Huntsville, Alabama.