You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” – George Bernard Shaw. That statement captures the past, the present and the future of Florida’s Space Coast: a place with a storied legacy, where aspiration and vision seem to be in the DNA, but also a place where the future seems to be at a tipping point.

Like no other time in history, innovation and challenging limits are the expected norm. We are in an era where computers have moved from the size of a Coke machine, to a deck of cards and now a postage stamp. And the internet, which has not even turned 30 yet, has changed the way the world communicates as much as the introduction of the phonetic alphabet. Like England, Holland, Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries – who saw maritime ventures as their future – once again humanity is looking skyward and seeing endless possibilities.

Silicon Valley became the epicenter of consumer technology by catching the wave, or rather the tsunami, created by the fortuitous convergence of computer savvy entrepreneurs, the silicon chip and the internet. Is it possible that the next great advances will turn our focus from the terrestrial use of cybertechnology to the frontiers of space? From computer chips to spaceships?

According to J.D. Vance, the managing partner of the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, investors are beginning to look beyond the next innovative app or internet consumerism toward transformative projects. Projects, he says, that have the potential to change the world and the future, like Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ ongoing efforts with SpaceX and Blue Origin, respectively.

Another industry up and comer, Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic, said in a press release announcing their new operations on the Space Coast, “The space industry is expected to be the fastest growing segment of the worldwide economy in the coming decades, with analysts predicting a global market of over a trillion dollars a year by 2040.”

Why Here, Why Now?
Steve Case, the former CEO and chairman of AOL and now CEO and chairman of Revolution, recently brought his venture capital roadshow, Rise of the Rest, to Brevard. They made only four stops in the state: Tampa, Orlando, Miami and the Space Coast. This begs the question, “why here?”

If Case and his colleagues are correct, the Space Coast will be the area where the next wave of entrepreneurial efforts and investment could be focused.

Interestingly, the moderator of the discussion Case and Vance shared, before their pitch competition began, was Kim Hart. She is the managing editor of Axios, a wildly successful new digital news platform that recently introduced an outlet that may confirm our assumptions: Axios Space. Other sites like space.com, universetoday.com and spaceflightnow.com are also gaining a wide following.

The mission of Rise of the Rest is, pardon the pun, to spread the wealth, as 75% of venture capital investment goes to only three states: California, New York and Massachusetts. Of the nearly $131 billion in VC investments in 2018, which was a new record, over 50% went to California alone, and Florida garnered a mere $1.7 billion.

There is good news. Private investors poured $3.9 billion into commercial space companies in 2018, a record, according to a report from the investment firm Space Angels. The sum accounts for a sixth of all the money invested in the last nine years. Not only is money flowing in, the last eight years have seen around $25 billion in exits, as acquisitions and public offerings take venture capital investments from start-ups to the next level. In addition, 120 firms made investments in space last year, topping a peak of 89 in 2015.

Beyond Risk to Reward
A passionate, but mild-mannered evangelist for entrepreneurialism, Case declared the key to entrepreneurial success was not focusing on the potential risks, though he fully understands due-diligence, but instead zeroing in on the limitless potential. “All major corporations started as small ventures,” he said. “And across the nation, economic development experts are realizing the best way to create job growth is not to convince companies to relocate, but to grow companies locally.”

The project Rise of the Rest chose to fund was Atomos Nuclear and Space. This company uses what their CEO Vanessa Clark described as, “High-powered electric propulsion tugs to move satellites to any orbit beyond low Earth orbit.” Basically, their spacecraft can deploy satellites into higher orbits, dispose of defunct satellites, recover satellites that have gone astray or provide a propulsion option that, unlike chemical rockets which fire and then coast, are able to provide continuous acceleration. A kind of tortoise-versus-the-hare approach to space travel.

For the first time in history, the Space Coast is not just the launch site, the last step in putting people and payloads into space. Now it is where these projects begin. Also, for the first time in history, the creativity and the drive of entrepreneurialism is propelling our space efforts. Like the convergence that happened 35 years ago in Silicon Valley, Brevard could become the Silicon Valley of space.

If this seems improbable, pause for a moment and call to mind two images that are etched in our collective memory. One is of Orville Wright making his first flight across the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The craft looks almost comically fragile, and it was, but in less than 50 years, Chuck Yeager flew his Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound. The second is Robert Goddard, standing next to his first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. His missile contraption looks more like the frame of an artificial Christmas tree. It flew to an altitude of 41 feet in a two-second burn. Again, in less than 50 years, humans traveled from Earth to the Moon and back.

Goddard is well remembered for his response to a 1920 New York Times editorial, bearing the title “A Severe Strain on Credulity,” which challenged his theories on space flight. Part of his now famous reply was, “Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.” How true: space flight is so commonplace that failures garner more press than successes. One is also reminded of Steve Wozniak’s story about going to the leadership of Hewlett Packard five times to demonstrate his Apple 1 personal computer. His employer, to whom he wanted to give the technology, turned him down each time. Like a launch window, windows of opportunity do not remain open long.

The space industry is expected to be the fastest growing segment of the worldwide economy in the coming decades, with analysts predicting a global market of over a trillion dollars a year by 2040.

Beyond Risk to Reward
A passionate, but mild-mannered evangelist for entrepreneurialism, Case declared the key to entrepreneurial success was not focusing on the potential risks, though he fully understands due-diligence, but instead zeroing in on the limitless potential. “All major corporations started as small ventures,” he said. “And across the nation, economic development experts are realizing the best way to create job growth is not to convince companies to relocate, but to grow companies locally.”

The project Rise of the Rest chose to fund was Atomos Nuclear and Space. This company uses what their CEO Vanessa Clark described as, “High-powered electric propulsion tugs to move satellites to any orbit beyond low Earth orbit.” Basically, their spacecraft can deploy satellites into higher orbits, dispose of defunct satellites, recover satellites that have gone astray or provide a propulsion option that, unlike chemical rockets which fire and then coast, are able to provide continuous acceleration. A kind of tortoise-versus-the-hare approach to space travel.

For the first time in history, the Space Coast is not just the launch site, the last step in putting people and payloads into space. Now it is where these projects begin. Also, for the first time in history, the creativity and the drive of entrepreneurialism is propelling our space efforts. Like the convergence that happened 35 years ago in Silicon Valley, Brevard could become the Silicon Valley of space.

If this seems improbable, pause for a moment and call to mind two images that are etched in our collective memory. One is of Orville Wright making his first flight across the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The craft looks almost comically fragile, and it was, but in less than 50 years, Chuck Yeager flew his Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound. The second is Robert Goddard, standing next to his first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. His missile contraption looks more like the frame of an artificial Christmas tree. It flew to an altitude of 41 feet in a two-second burn. Again, in less than 50 years, humans traveled from Earth to the Moon and back.

Goddard is well remembered for his response to a 1920 New York Times editorial, bearing the title “A Severe Strain on Credulity,” which challenged his theories on space flight. Part of his now famous reply was, “Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace.” How true: space flight is so commonplace that failures garner more press than successes. One is also reminded of Steve Wozniak’s story about going to the leadership of Hewlett Packard five times to demonstrate his Apple 1 personal computer. His employer, to whom he wanted to give the technology, turned him down each time. Like a launch window, windows of opportunity do not remain open long.

We want the things that are in science fiction novels and movies not to be science fiction forever. We want them to be real one day.

The Excellent Adventure
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk did not capture the world’s imagination with the limitless possibilities of space. That was something Jules Verne, Gene Roddenberry and Wernher von Braun did. What Bezos and Musk have accomplished is to put space travel and space utilization on the same footing as other monumental projects, like the transcontinental railroad.

The railroad, which, along with abundant land, was a primary component in making America the envy and driver of the modern world. It was a public/private partnership; the government contributed land rights, but the project was built and funded largely by the private sector.

For the first time, space utilization and exploration is taking a similar track. Strangely, it is not the pilots of these technological wonders that are capturing people’s imaginations. The ones with “the right stuff” are the daring individuals risking their fortunes to make it happen. They are the rock stars of space.

In truth, it has been their willingness to put their money where their mouth is, or their passion is, that has garnered so much attention. But who knows, perhaps the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of space is working in their parents’ garage or pondering possibilities in their college dorm.

As Musk said in a CNBC interview, “I really believe in the future of space, and I think it’s important that we become a space-faring civilization and get out there among the stars. And I think that’s one of the things that, you know, makes people excited about the future. We want the things that are in science fiction novels and movies not to be science fiction forever. We want them to be real one day.”

We also want them to be realized right here on the Space Coast.

Eric Wright
President of Publishing at | Website

Eric Wright is an innovative leader, dynamic speaker and published author. He turns complex principles into simple and practical life applications. For over 25 years, Eric has taught leadership and management seminars on four continents, served on various economic development and visioning councils, and authored hundreds of published articles and three books.

As President of Publishing at SpaceCoast Magazines, Eric oversees the production of business and lifestyle journals, along with numerous specialty publications. Through these journals, Eric offers entrepreneurs and business leaders a trusted voice connecting communities across Florida and the US.

Eric and his wife, Susan, live in Indialantic, Florida, and have three married sons and four grandchildren.