Wyvern raises US$4.5M, enters Y Combinator

Edmonton-based space company Wyvern has been accepted into the Y Combinator technology accelerator, and has closed an oversubscribed seed round for US$2.25 million, led by MaC Venture Capital, in addition to US$2.25 million in pre-seed funding and support from the federal government.

"It feels absolutely unreal," CEO Christopher Robson said of the announcement.

"I remember walking to the (University of Alberta) every morning ... and I had no idea if I'd work in the space industry because it's Alberta. (Wyvern) only started a few years ago and all of a sudden we're launching satellites."

The startup plans to use the funds raised to launch its first three satellites, and "pave the way for commercial access to cost-effective imaging capabilities such as 5m shortwave-infrared (SWIR) in the coming years." SWIR is a spectrum of light that is useful in industries like mining, agriculture, and oil and gas.

"You just see so many things in that spectrum that you can't see with your eyes," Robson said. "You'd be able to see a methane plume, you'd be able to measure directly the moisture of the ground, and you'd be able to distinguish between the minerals in a mineral field, purely based off how they're how they're reflecting light. If you were a farmer, you could look at a field and tell what kind of crop it is just based off of this whole spectrum."

Several of Wyvern's founders got their start in the University of Alberta's AlbertaSat program — designing, building, launching, and operating the first "made-in Alberta" satellites.

Ian Mann is a professor in the department of physics at the University of Alberta and a faculty advisor for the AlbertaSat program. He was involved with the program when several of Wyvern's founders were participants, and told Taproot that it has been inspiring to watch them excel.

"It was a goal of the AlbertaSat program ... to create a hub for space innovation on the campus here in Edmonton, to create an interdisciplinary project which would train the next generation of scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs and who could become future leaders in the new space race," Mann said.

"The innovation to create Wyvern, with the goal of (bringing) game-changing space-based multispectral imaging from small satellites to the commercial market, is a beacon which I hope will attract future generations of students to a space future here in Alberta."

Hyperspectral imaging

Wyvern's recent funding round has secured its first three satellite launches. Here's an example of what hyperspectral imaging from space can show. (Supplied)

Mann explained that university research in particular has an advantage because it can often be more agile, allowing students to tackle significant problems in space technology and in the exploitation of space-based data.

"The Wyvern success to date demonstrates what I hope is only the very beginning of such future space innovations in the province of Alberta," he added, explaining that the "New Space economy" is a rapidly growing sector of the aerospace sector, with substantial opportunities for economic diversification.

Robson agrees with Mann that there's significant potential in Alberta for future advancements.

"Alberta and Edmonton in particular, there's a lot of parallels that the workforce and the industries here have (in common with) space. We work in very inhospitable environments, we mine raw materials, we build really complex and amazing machines to get those materials. We're frontiers folk, and space is the next frontier," Robson said.

He said the province needs to capitalize on the opportunity and build up its local space industry, which is why Wyvern's success is so important.

"We primarily did this because we really wanted people to have the ability to live in Alberta and to work in the space industry," Robson explained. The goal is to use the imagery available to expand what industries are currently able to do, which would in turn bolster the economy. Wyvern's first focus for its new satellites is the agriculture sector.

As Wyvern works towards these goals, the US-based Y Combinator accelerator will help it close more sales deals and professionalize processes it currently has in place to grow the company.

"It's like you're living in a Silicon Valley environment ... it's just crazy," Robson said. "That environment doesn't exist in Edmonton yet, and having that opportunity to go learn and also bring it back here is huge. We're going to evolve into something entirely new over the next three months."

The program will culminate with Demo Day on March 29.