WASHINGTON — Australian startup Fleet Space Technologies announced Sept. 4 it has raised more than $7 million to expand its constellation of satellites providing Internet of Things services to a growing number of customers.
Fleet said the $7.35 million round, the second raised by the company since its founding in 2015, was led by new investors Momenta Ventures and Horizons Ventures. Existing investors Grok Ventures and Blackbird Ventures also participated in the round, as did the Kennard family, owners of an Australian equipment rental company, Kennards Hire, that is a Fleet customer.
Fleet currently has four cubesat-class satellites in orbit, launched in late 2018, providing IoT services. The company says demand for its services is so strong that it needs to launch additional satellites to meet that demand.
“We really need to launch more satellites very fast, so we decided to go for a new raise,” said Flavia Tata Nardini, co-founder and chief executive of Fleet, in an interview.
She said the company, which launched a mix of 1.5U and 3U cubesats last year, will probably build somewhat larger satellites for this next set. “IoT requires good radios and a lot of interesting technologies to optimize spectrum, so we might go to a slightly bigger spacecraft,” she said, such as 6U cubesats. Those satellites, likely another set of four, would launch in mid to late 2020.
The demand for IoT services that is driving the need for additional satellites is coming primarily from energy and natural resources applications. “We let the market tell us where the IoT applications are,” Nardini said. “Most of our customers are in the resources, energy, mining applications: a lot of asset tracking and asset management.”
Most of Fleet’s customers are in Australia and the United States, and the company plans to use some of its new funding to expand customer support. “IoT deployment needs boots on the ground,” she said. “You need to be very close to your customers to help them through their journey. It’s not just about putting a modem in the field.”
Fleet is competing with a number of companies that are also offering satellite-centric IoT solutions, as well as others that rely more on terrestrial infrastructure. Fleet is not the only IoT satellite company to raise funding this week: Astrocast announced Sept. 4 a new $9.2 million funding round as it seeks to deploy its own satellite constellation.
Nardini said that Fleet has a more flexible approach, working with a range of IoT protocols rather than using a single, fixed architecture. “We enable these protocols to talk to the sky,” she said. “This is probably why Fleet managed to get so many clients: we use protocols that are developed for terrestrial infrastructures.”
Fleet’s two major new investors will help advance the company beyond the funding they provide. Fleet is the first investment for a new fund by Momenta Ventures devoted to IoT companies. “We believe that the next wave of innovation in connected industry will be powered by low power, wide area networks, and see satellites complementing terrestrial networks to provide coverage anywhere, anytime,” said Lee Carter, principal with Momenta Ventures, in a statement about the investment.
Horizons Ventures, the investment arm of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, has invested in a range of technology companies, and sees Fleet as a way to advance IoT technologies globally. “We are excited to see how Fleet’s technology and constellation of satellites can become crucial to bringing the possibilities of the IoT to the far reaches of the globe,” said Patrick Poon, director of Horizons Ventures, in a statement.
Fleet, based in Adelaide, Australia, is still a “teeny-tiny” company with only about 15 employees, Nardini said. She expects the company to double in size with the new funding over the next six months to work on the new satellites and expand its customer support.
Fleet is also a success story for the emerging Australian space industry. The country’s space agency, established a little more than a year ago, has helped the company’s growth, she said, and the fact that agency is also based in Adelaide has helped lure employees to the city.
“We don’t have to move to build a worldwide company. We can do it here,” she said. “We’re demonstrating the quality of space startups in this country.”