Oxford Space Systems Founder and CEO Mike Lawton - Interview

What Is the Background of the Top Management of Oxford Space Systems?

The team either have a strong space engineering and business development background or have worked in niche, high value engineering sectors. Dr. Juan Revels our CTO, worked originally on thermal-mechanical design/analysis in the US automotive industry before transferring to the space sector. Over the last decade he’s worked on many ESA science and commercial missions as has Mat Rowe, our Chief Commercial Officer. Mat Dreaper, OSS CFO, has worked with many tech start-ups and has successfully taken a few through to IPO or trade sales. Our non-execs have collectively worked in the commercial space sector for a combined total of around 45 years. Mike Lawton, CEO, has built and exited two previous technology companies and has always worked in high-end R&D environments either as design engineer or building and leading engineering teams. Mike has won a number of awards for entrepreneurship as well as technical performance.

What Is the Core Product or Service of Oxford Space Systems?

OSS is working on a small portfolio of highly cost competitive and scalable deployable structures, such as antennas, boom systems and panel arrays (solar and RF). What differentiates us is the use of proprietary materials we’re developing, such as a highly scalable and tuneable flexible composite we call AstroTube™. When we combine this flight-proven material with conventional materials we’re able to offer structures that are lighter, lower cost and more stowage efficient than existing products.

What Is the Unique Selling Point of Oxford Space Systems to Its Market Sector?

Our core USP is the use of our own proprietary materials, such as flexible composites, to improve stowage efficiency, whilst reducing cost, complexity and mass of our products. A ‘softer’ USP is that our customers regularly tell us they value our transparency & openness and find us easy to work with. It’s also worth noting that the team comes from or has extensive experience of working in terrestrial industrial and commercial sectors. Therefore we’re challenging the so called ‘old space’ approach: we want to do things faster and cheaper, without compromise to product quality. A great example of this is the setting of a record for the industry: from company formation, through to material design, product development and then successful in orbit demonstration of our AstroTube boom was achieved in under 30 months.

How Does Oxford Space Systems Disrupt the Competitive Environment of Its Market with Its Product/Service?

As a venture capital backed ‘newspace’ business we’re not hamstrung by risk-aversion and the need to justify resource allocation in the way a larger, more traditional space business does. This means we can move faster and genuinely innovate – not incrementally improve, which is often passed off as ‘innovation’ by large incumbent organisations. This has allowed us to do what was dismissed as impossible: iterate a new material, build a sub-system from it and then validate on orbit in under 30 months. We follow a non-linear, entrepreneurial approach which permits compressed lead times but without compromise to product quality or reliability. We’re therefore bringing disruption, not just in product performance, but in the way space hardware can be developed.

What Are the Growth Objectives of Oxford Space Systems over the next 5 Years?

Like a lot of early stage tech business the challenge is to transition from a development phase, where revenues tend to be minimal or non-existent, to an operational and profit making phase. Fortunately OSS has been revenue generating from day 1, so our primary goal is to increase revenues to become cash flow positive as soon as possible. The founding team consider this critical; it means we’re a sustainable business and are avoiding any further equity dilution of the founding team. From here, and consistent will all venture capital backed businesses, we’ll work toward an exit. This is likely to be in the form of a trade sale or maybe even an IPO. We’ve already have a couple of interesting approaches from the US but it feels premature. We know that we can add considerably more value by getting more product in space and proving out the novel materials were developing. In order to achieve growth and company value, we’re exploring establishing a presence in the USA to service the interest we’re receiving – and the US is of course the epicentre of the NewSpace industry. We’re also currently working on some exciting contracts in Asia and a couple of customers have asked us to establish an office in that part of the world, so within the next 5yrs we’ll have a presence on all 3 continents with some significant product lines at TRL9.

What Competitive Changes Does Oxford Space Systems Envisage Within Its Key Markets over the next 5 Years?

Much like the early days of computer industry, space used to be the domain of few, very large incumbents selling very high price technology – and taking a long time to do it. Advances in technology have made computers a low cost commodity, produced by many companies on every continent and enjoyed by a global customer base. We’ll see the same with satellite technology. The cost and performance of technology that will survive the space environment is improving. This is of course slower than terrestrial applications for obvious reasons, but the trajectory is clear. Thus the primary change is a transition from a very high value market controlled by the few, to one with many players driven by a strong commercial focus on higher volume opportunities. This means companies will need to adopt production processes that permit much higher volumes in more aggressive time frames. This requires a change in mind set; those that fail to adapt to new market conditions and ways of business will struggle. Its easy for large incumbents to be dismissive of new entrants. Hubris is a dangerous characteristic that has undone many seemingly entrenched global players in many market sectors. The only certainly in the market over the next five years is that the market will change!

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