Wyvern wraps up Y Combinator, prepares to launch satellites

After pitching to an investor audience as part of Y Combinator this week, the founders of space-data startup Wyvern are preparing to charge forward with what they've learned from the technology accelerator since January.

"We're gearing up for the launch of our first satellites, just planning out exactly how we're going to get the first images down later this year," said co-founder and COO Callie Lissinna. "I think the next half a year is going to be a lot about expanding our technical capacity in Edmonton through improving our facilities, our lab, and bringing on more people who are talented at building spacecraft."

Although the first satellites won't launch until sometime between October and December, Lissinna said Wyvern needs to start gearing up to launch its second batch of satellites now. As Lissinna and her fellow co-founders Chris Robson, Kristen Cote, and Kurtis Broda work towards that goal, their experience in Y Combinator and its $500,000 injection of capital will help grow the company at the same time.

"The four of us definitely have engineer and physicist brains that are really excited about tech. (Y Combinator) got us back into the mindset of focusing on what metrics are going to show that Wyvern is successful," she explained.

During the program, the team focused on sales and demonstrating that they have mitigated the market risk even though the company's Earth imaging isn't yet commercially available. They were able to do that by working closely alongside the few other aerospace companies in the batch, sharing tactics needed to solve problems.

Changing the startup's approach to fundraising and pitching overall was a key takeaway for Lissinna that has now "forever changed (Wyvern) for the better."

"There's one thing that can take any pitch from mediocre to great: showing real, quantified traction," she wrote on LinkedIn. "It's almost comically simple. Show the evidence that you're really onto something and let it speak for itself; worry less about the slide design, the slick script, the tactics."

As Wyvern's CEO, Robson had a chance to practice those skills during the company's 60-second pitch on March 29. Investors heard more than 400 pitches over two days, and Lissinna said Wyvern has already been inundated with interest.

"Being a space company is great because you're automatically exciting. Among the 414 pitches, we already have a bit of a leg up ... we're shiny," she added.

A portrait of Wyvern's co-founders wearing Wyvern T-shirts

(From left to right) Wyvern co-founders Kurtis Broda, Kristen Cote, Callie Lissinna, and Chris Robson took part in the latest batch of Y Combinator. (Supplied)

Those selected to take part in Y Combinator usually fly to California for the three-month program, but companies have been joining remotely because of COVID-19. Lissinna said they missed out on some opportunities to network, but staying in Edmonton meant the co-founders could also continue to focus on Wyvern's day-to-day operations.

Even though their batch was spread across 42 countries, Lissinna found that working alongside founders going through similar challenges was an experience she'd been missing.

"Wyvern is four years old. So 50% of the company's lifetime has been during the pandemic, which has made it more difficult for us to feel connected to local and international communities of entrepreneurs," she said. "(This experience) has opened our eyes to the fact that we're part of something bigger in a really fulfilling way."

This was Wyvern's second time applying to the Silicon Valley-based program, and it wasn't alone — 57% of their cohort had applied more than once. Lissinna said this was a good reminder of the tenacity that entrepreneurs need to be successful. "I think that's pretty characteristic of the entire startup experience, that you need to be persistent. Just because you get rejected the first time doesn't mean that you won't see success in the future."

Edmonton cellular agriculture startup Future Fields is another local Y Combinator-backed company — it participated as part of the summer 2020 batch.

"It was a great accelerant for the company ... it was very impactful to our trajectory," CEO Matthew Anderson-Baron told Taproot. He pointed to the experience the Future Fields team gained in fundraising as a key component for growth as well as learning about running a company from the YC partners.

As Wyvern's founders apply the lessons they learned to their own operations, Anderson-Baron advised them and the other companies coming out of the experience to avoid getting comfortable.

"That's the time to go at it the hardest and quickest ... when you have that momentum," Anderson-Baron explained. Staying true to his own advice, Future Fields is in the midst of raising a Series A round, with the goal of closing at US$10 million to US$15 million in the next month.

Anderson-Baron is excited to see what's next for Wyvern, and he hopes more local companies will seek out the same opportunity.

"It says a lot about the ecosystem here in Edmonton ... that people are getting notoriety and attention from world-class accelerators like YC. I think that's a sign of things to come," he said.