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Blast off: Skyroot Aerospace’s aim is to launch rockets to carry small satellites for companies that want earth images or to launch communication services Withno real government policies in place in


2011 to help start-ups or encourage investments, NoPo’sMrReddy raised Rs12.5m($172,000) from his relatives to get started. The limited funds forced him to use that smartly: for instance, by buying expensivecomponents suchas valves, fit- tingsandconnectorsoneBay’sUSversion,where the products were both reliably genuine and cheaper than on its Indian site.


Early disruptors In 2018, Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, two young ISRO scientists armed with $1.5mseed funding from fashion e-commerce Myntra founder Mukesh Bansal, started Skyroot Aerospace in the southern city of Hyderabad. Their aim is to launch rockets to carry small satellites for companies that want earth images or to launch communication ser- vices. They had been introduced to Mr Bansal who is a space enthusiast and who met govern- ment officials as part of his due diligence before handing over the cheque to Skyroot, says Mr Chandana. “Thanks to that, capital was not an issue for the first one to one-and-a-half years,” he adds. In February 2021, Skyroot tied up with


Bellatrix Aerospace, which makes vehicles to transfer satellites in orbit. The initiative is simi- lar to making a ‘last mile delivery’, as for some flights Skyroot will carry the satellites of poten- tial clients into space and once there, Bellatrix will ensure they get towhere they need to be. Other investors are starting to take notice. In May 2021, Skyroot raised $11m in a series A


June/July 2021 www.fDiIntelligence.com


round – led by the cofounders of Greenko Group, one of India’s largest renewable power companies – and included India-listed space and defence supplier Solar Industries. In the same month, Chennai-based Agnikul


Cosmos, which in 2022 plans to launch a small rocket where the entire engine will be fully 3D printed in one go, also raised $11m. The round came on the heels of a $3.5m pre-series A in 2020. Agnikul co-founder Srinath Ravi- chandran credits at least some of the investor love for its latest round to the recent IN-SPACe policy. His start-up aims to make rockets and launch satellites for clients within a couple of weeks, unlike the four to six months needed in the conventional process, and at close to a quarter of the cost of the latter. The firm has signed up with IN-SPACe to use ISRO’s testing facilities for its processes. While Mr Ravichandran calls IN-SPACe


“awesome”, his one request for the government to really help businesses get off the ground would be to place sample orders as “that really helps provide validation in the market”. NoPo’s Mr Reddy has another request.


Currently, the rules allowgovernment agencies to buy advanced technology from a single ven- dor. And while they have used that rule to buy from foreign vendors, they have rarely used it for Indian vendors for fear of accusations of favouritism by government auditors. This hurts domestic start-ups, says Mr Reddy, who wants that policy to be tweaked so the bureaucrats can place orders fearlessly with Indian compa- nies as well, thus levelling the playing field.■


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