African investor invests in US satellite start-up

African investor invests in US satellite start-up

Tony Elumelu, the Nigerian entrepreneur who built up Lagos-based Heirs Holdings into an investment powerhouse, has stars in his eyes. That is to say, he has recently invested in a US satellite technology company called Planet Labs.

Elumelu, a businessman and philanthropist, has always been about investing in and promoting African potential. Investing in a San Francisco-based start-up might at first blush seem a contrary move, but Planet Labs is working towards developing low-flying satellites that can take high-resolution photos of various regions of Earth, and such images of Africa could prove beneficial to the continent’s future development.

Accordingly Heirs Holdings has invested in the US company, although the size of the investment is not yet public knowledge.

Planet Labs

Planet Labs was co-founded by Robbie Schingler, William Marshall and Chris Boshuizen, former NASA scientists. Their mission is to launch new satellites called ‘doves’ that orbit the Earth at a lower altitude than normal satellites and so are able to take higher-resolution images which can be used to inform and direct worldwide actions. The doves are very small and much cheaper to manufacture and operate than their regular-sized counterparts.

To date Planet Labs has enjoyed a substantial degree of success in its field. In 2013 it launched four satellites and also produced a fleet of 28 doves. These will soon be entering space.

An African investor

Speaking of the Heirs Holding investment, Schingler said, “We are very excited to welcome Heirs Holdings to our team of investors and thank them for their support. The funding that they and other partners provide is vital for our development as a company and we are particularly pleased to be working with an African company, as our technology has the potential to support Africa’s development by monitoring and mapping the continent’s natural resources and agriculture.”

Elumelu said in a statement, “As the only African investor in Planet Labs’ project, we are incredibly proud to have supported such an innovative and dynamic company, which has already achieved significant success. As part of our business philosophy of Africapitalism, we are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and startups to enable them to bring scale to their projects and we look forward to following Planet Labs’ achievements over the coming years.”

David Okwara

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