9Point8 Capital, the first company created specifically to finance and capitalize space-related commercial ventures is setting up shop in Brownsville.
The city of Brownsville and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation announced the news at a Monday press conference featuring the company’s founding partner, J. Brant Arseneau, a native of Canada who spent nearly 25 years with JPMorgan as an expert in electronic trading before becoming interested in the space industry.
9Point8 Capital, whose name refers to the gravity-acceleration rate of 9.8 meters per second at the Earth’s surface, will manage a group of companies meant to get start-ups off the ground and ready for venture capital infusions. Among the group of companies will be a “hatchery/incubator” designed to start and nurture companies from scratch to solve specific space-travel related problems, and Spaced Ventures, a digital crowd-funding platform for space/technology start-ups that Arseneau co-founded and whose arrival in Brownsville was announced last year by city officials.
The group of companies also includes a$250 million venture fund. The overall concept is to support space and “adjacent technology” firms — solar and nuclear power for instance — from birth to maturity.
Arseneau said he loved working for JPMorgan and in the last few years he learned that there are hundreds of space companies in existence — not just the big ones everybody’s heard about: SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. Arseneau, who studied electrical engineering to become an astronaut but had his application rejected by the Canadian Space Agency in the early 1990s, said that when he decided to get into the space industry he was advised not to start his own rocket company but instead provide capital, financing and businesses development products young to space/technology companies.
“I was a little disappointed because I wanted to build a rocket, or a nuclear reactor,” he said. “That set me on a path of designing an ecosystem of finance and capital products to help the space industry. What happens in emerging markets is the capital markets that support the emerging market lags behind the market. There’s not a lot of capital for new industries that people don’t understand … so it takes a little time.”
Arseneau said he chose Brownsville to locate a portion of 9Point8’s operations because he senses the city is on its way to becoming a focal point of the new space industry.
“I don’t want to miss that opportunity to be here when Brownsville becomes the Silicon Valley of space, so we chose this as a very, very important part of our ecosystem,” he said.
Arseneau said the company’s offices here will house public relations, marketing and communications at first but eventually will expand.
“As the space community evolves and grows here we’ll have more front office deploying capital here,” he said. “That’s one of the key values we believe 9Point8 brings, is once there are multiple companies here to fund, we want to fund them.”
In finance, it’s important to be close to clients and capital, and for 9Point8 that means being in Brownsville, he said.
“I would like to be the first finance person to be in Brownsville when this becomes the Silicon Valley of space,” Arseneau said.
He said a $10 million to $20 million scholarship program for a “space MBA” is also in the works and would focus on diversity in terms of getting more women, people of color and people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds into the space industry, especially jobs here in the space industry.
Arseneau said he’d like half the students to come from engineering backgrounds and be taught business, and the other half business people who need to learn about technology. He said the company will also focus on developing the necessary trades aspect of the new-space workforce — electricians and plumbers and so on.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez, speaking at the press conference, said a key component missing in the city’s push to create a new-space economy is capital, though 9Point8 will fill that gap.
“There’s nobody that’s really doing venture capital when it comes to space,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity based on the economics of the space industry, and especially new space. What’s happening and where it’s going is huge.”