Branson, Bezos and the next space boom

Plus: Blackstone's ESG play, the robotaxi funding frenzy and more
Read online | Don't want to receive these emails? Manage your subscription.
Log in
The Weekend Pitch
July 11, 2021
Presented by Capital Allocators
Billionaire Richard Branson's leap into space is a made-for-the-internet media event that shows Virgin Galactic is nearly ready to take uber-wealthy tourists on celestial journeys.

The opening of the launch window for VSS Unity comes just nine days before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos hopes to make his inaugural space visit on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. Branson insists this isn't a space race, but that comparison seems inescapable, probably because it's fun to think that billionaires' lives are governed by petty little dramas just like ours.

You can reach me at or on Twitter at @jamescthorne.
(Courtesy of Virgin Galactic)
Billionaire Richard Branson's leap into space is a made-for-the-internet media event that shows Virgin Galactic is nearly ready to take uber-wealthy tourists on celestial journeys.

The opening of the launch window for VSS Unity comes just nine days before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos hopes to make his inaugural space visit on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket. Branson insists this isn't a space race, but that comparison seems inescapable, probably because it's fun to think that billionaires' lives are governed by petty little dramas just like ours.

Operation Billionaire Blastoff provides the clearest evidence yet of how private investors have grabbed the torch of space exploration from the grips of national pride and ambition. The emergent venture-backed space economy is now starting to affect life on Earth in beneficial ways.

Still, some will say that the event reflects badly on society. There's an ugly irony to the fact that the billionaires are pushing the bounds of Earth's gravitational pull shortly after much of the world shattered long-standing heat records. Worse, those heat waves have been exacerbated by decades of excess and inaction by people in rich countries.

If that's how you feel, take solace in the knowledge that space travel is still no picnic, despite massive improvements to launch technology in the past decade.

Before takeoff, early space tourists will reportedly be asked to indemnify their escorts against loss of life and limb, and they'll pay handsomely for the experience: around $250,000 or more.

Journeying to the edge of space is also a stomach-churning event. Those that manage to avoid puking on their visor will enjoy out-of-this-world views and retain a memory that will make the rest of their life seem tedious.

Another reason to be sanguine: These events amount to marketing stunts for the entire space tech industry, which will bring more attention and dollars to opportunities that help the rest of us.

Earth's orbit can feel far away, but the capitalist space race has affected terrestrial markets in ways that are hard to ignore.

Lest we forget, it was Virgin Galactic's SPAC deal in 2019 that catalyzed the blank-check gold rush. There are now at least eight space tech companies that have completed or are planning deals to go public through a SPAC merger, according to PitchBook data.

Rocket maker SpaceX is currently the second-most valuable VC-backed company in the US, according to PitchBook data, and has reportedly raised upward of $6 billion. And if it weren't for his love of the stars, Bezos may not have handed over Amazon's CEO suite to its new chief, Andy Jassy.

Globally, space tech startups managed to raise $5.5 billion in VC funding last year, setting a record that 2021 is on pace to beat, according to PitchBook data.

While people like to talk about space tourism and Martian colonies, the space economy currently exists to serve the Earth economy, as my colleague Ryan Vaswani detailed in a new report on the sector. Some of those services are remarkably useful for humankind, including tools to deal with climate change.

For example, aptly named Planet sells Earth observation data beamed from satellites that is used to manage our terrestrial resources. Startups using such data have found ways to monitor forests for carbon offsets (see Pachama), track greenhouse gas emissions (GHGSat) and predict environmental changes (Salo Sciences).

SpaceX's Starlink internet service recently became operational for test users. And despite occasional periods of unreliable connections, reviewers have hailed it as a godsend in areas that lack broadband.

Over time, the Earth-centered paradigm will start to shift. As our network of satellites and stations grows, we'll start to see what Vaswani calls the space-for-space economy. Eventually we may develop the kind of infrastructure that makes it possible to depart Earth for longer periods, but that reality is a long way off.

As the Branson-Bezos drama captures the public's attention, it is also likely to bring renewed focus from policymakers. That's a good thing, considering some of the most influential rules that govern space date back to the Cold War era.

In the near term, the proliferation of satellites has resulted in a growing threat posed by space trash. Left unregulated, there's a distinct possibility that accidental collisions with artificial space debris could wipe out the hard-won infrastructure of low-Earth orbit.

Like any global commons—air, the ocean, polar regions—Earth's orbit is a shared resource that requires collective agreement and action. In their own way, Bezos and Branson are ensuring that we all start paying attention.
Share:   Email    LinkedIn    Twitter    Facebook
A message from Capital Allocators
Compounding knowledge and relationships
Capital Allocators is the critically acclaimed podcast for institutional investors. Host Ted Seides interviews leading asset owners, money managers and thought leaders to learn how these holders of the keys to the kingdom allocate their time and capital. Each interview adds incremental insights to the investment process to help deliver better results. Check it out on your favorite audio platform, and visit to learn more.
Share:   Email    LinkedIn    Twitter    Facebook
Surveying sustainable investing practices
PitchBook is taking the pulse of investors and other private market participants on their incorporation of impact strategies and ESG risk factors. Please share your firm's approach to sustainable investing and what drives it. The survey will take about 10 minutes.

All who complete the survey will be entered in a prize drawing, and for each completed response, PitchBook will make a donation to World Central Kitchen.

Take the survey now
Share:   Email    LinkedIn    Twitter    Facebook


"CEOs are very willing to transact over a couple of Zoom conversations, straight to the point, no time wasted, not three or four dinners to get there. People have less patience, things are quicker, and they're going to stay that way."

—Thoma Bravo co-founder Orlando Bravo discussing the pandemic's impact on dealmaking


(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Robotaxi companies like Waymo and Cruise are aiming to achieve self-driving technology that matches and surpasses human driving capabilities. That day could be as soon as five to 10 years away, according to an estimate by PitchBook senior analyst Asad Hussain in a new research note.

To reach that point, robotaxi companies are loading up on venture capital at eye-popping rates. Investors have already poured $5.7 billion into the autonomous driving sector in the first half of 2021, led by Waymo's $2.5 billion June round, versus the all-time record of $8.3 billion that was set last year, according to PitchBook data.

Did you know ...

... That the opacity of the private markets has made it increasingly difficult for LPs to fully understand fund performance? And to make matters worse for the PE industry's image, firms have recently come under fire for smoothing returns.

But a recent PitchBook analyst note sheds some positive light on the asset class. According to a study conducted by analyst Andrew Akers, a 20% allocation to PE buyout funds in a 60/40 portfolio produced an average of 0.6% in annualized excess returns in 100 simulations run between 1997 and 2020.

Deal Flow

(robertsrob/Getty Images)
Add Blackstone to the growing list of private equity firms devoting ever more resources to ESG investment goals. This week, the buyout shop agreed to acquire Sphera, a provider of ESG software, data and consulting services, from Genstar Capital in a deal that values the Chicago-based business at about $1.4 billion.

Funds for the investment will come via Blackstone's flagship PE fund. Genstar has backed Sphera since 2016.
  • EQT also struck a deal in the ESG space, agreeing to acquire Cypress Creek Renewables, a US-based provider of solar energy and storage solutions, from HPS Investment Partners and Temasek.

  • The news comes as LPs increasingly pressure PE firms to take a proactive approach toward ESG investing. And it's led to some consolidation within the ESG compliance industry. Last month, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and International Integrated Reporting Council merged to become the Value Reporting Foundation, a nonprofit that sets uniform standards for ESG investing practices.

Biden's battle to end surprise hospital billing

(the_burtons/Getty Images)
It appears that surprise medical bills could finally be banned in the US, as long as you don't need to ride in a ground ambulance.

This week, President Biden implemented the first part of the No Surprises Act, a piece of legislation passed by Congress last December that aims to protect patients from surprise medical bills after they've been treated by an out-of-network physician at an in-network facility. Unfortunately, ground ambulance companies will still be allowed to render surprise bills after being exempted from the law.

PE-backed private physician networks have come under fire in recent years for sticking patients with out-of-network charges.

Recommended reads

The downtown office districts of many cities were vulnerable even before the pandemic hit. A visual look at why that's the case. [The New York Times]

According to new research, the closure of the tax loophole could shift a significant amount of ETF assets back into mutual funds. [Institutional Investor]

Circle has agreed to go public via a SPAC deal that will value the company at $4.5 billion. What does that say about the future of stablecoins? [Protocol]

In 1831, a volcanic island emerged from the Mediterranean Sea, triggering an international dispute. Then it disappeared without a trace. [BBC]

Inflation in the US has driven up prices 5% over the last year. A look at one Utah family's day-to-day expenses. [The Wall Street Journal]

By all appearances, direct-to-consumer kitchenware brand Great Jones was a startup success story. Then it lost all of its staff. [The New Yorker]
This edition of The Weekend Pitch was written by James Thorne, Adam Lewis and Alec Davis. It was edited by Alec Davis, Angela Sams, Kate Rainey and Sam Steele.

Were you forwarded The Weekend Pitch? Sign up at
Since yesterday, the PitchBook Platform added:
VC valuations
See what our data software can do
About PitchBook | Terms of use | Advertise with us | Contact

Follow us:   in   twtr   fb

This email was sent to you via the PitchBook Platform.

Do you want to change your email address, get a different edition or unsubscribe? Manage your subscription here.

© 2021 PitchBook Data. All rights reserved.
Venture capital, private equity and M&A financial information technology provider.

Older messages

PE is in ludicrous mode

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Also: VC returns data hints nontraditional investors are here to stay; Does an allocation to PE add value?; Space tech gets our premium treatment... Read online | Don't want to receive these emails

PE's latest play in the NBA

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Nextdoor to merge with Khosla-backed SPAC; DIY marketplace hits $2.6B valuation; Pine Labs picks up $600M+; Data startup Satellogic signs SPAC deal Read online | Don't want to receive these emails?

Nontraditional investors continue their VC push

Saturday, July 10, 2021

AnyVision raises $235M amid data privacy debate; Lightspeed hires former Stripe exec; Aleph Farms pulls in $105M; Video tech startup reels in $100M Read online | Don't want to receive these emails?

VC's gut check

Saturday, July 10, 2021

SoftBank backs disruptive financing startup; Circle signs SPAC deal at $4.5B valuation; H Venture Partners closes new vehicle; Glossier gets $80M Read online | Don't want to receive these emails?

Real estate tech bounces back

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

India's Cars24 eyes $2B valuation; Grocery delivery startup snags $192M; Nigeria's FairMoney nabs $42M; Parkway Venture Capital nears $60M fund Read online | Don't want to receive these

💵 Money, it's a gas

Monday, July 26, 2021

​ ​ ​ alternative investing hub raises $6M, a 4-step formula for financial freedom, physical vs NFT, Canada is 'not sorry' & what Pink Floyd's drummer is doing with his money. ​ Hi

This SaaS Grew to $3 Million ARR, Thanks to Affiliates...

Monday, July 26, 2021

How effective can affiliates be at promoting and growing a new SaaS company? ​Aurelien Amacker from joins us here to share more about the success he's seen with his all-in-one landing

July 26 - The rise and fall of Reebok | ThredUp acquires resale company Remix

Monday, July 26, 2021

Rue21 is opening 15 stores in 2021. Here's where they are.; ThredUp snaps up European apparel resale company Remix for over $28M; The running list of major retail deals in 2021; Consumers are

July 26 - Cheetos deploys finger-scanning tech | Boston Beer overestimated demand for hard seltzer

Monday, July 26, 2021

Boston Beer overestimated demand for hard seltzer as once-hot category shows signs of slowing; Chipotle, Ally jump in as Twitch expands sponsorship opportunities; Jones Soda turns labels into AR videos

☀️ Improving Facebook Ads...

Monday, July 26, 2021

Want your own marketing secret weapon, Reader? Get access to an always-on community of dynamic marketers inside the Social Media Marketing Society. Click here to learn more about it. 3 Ways to Build

What to know about the Digiday Media Buying Summit

Monday, July 26, 2021

Miami, FL | October 18-20 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Expanding your social media department

Monday, July 26, 2021

How to build a case to expand your social team & more in this week's content round-up ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Legislation could spark cannabis IPOs

Monday, July 26, 2021

NightDragon closes $750M cybersecurity fund; Paystand brings in $50M; Matterport debuts on Nasdaq via SPAC; Tovuti books $8M Read online | Don't want to receive these emails? Manage your

Last Call—EcomCrew Premium Enrollment closes tonight!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Get Unlimited 1-on-1 Help for $125/month Hey Reader, Did you promise yourself that 2021 is the year you're going to scale up your business? Then today's your last chance to join the hundreds

18 Email Newsletter Examples We Love Getting in Our Inboxes

Monday, July 26, 2021

As you engage your own audience, get inspired by these fantastic email newsletter examples from real brands. Here's what they do well. HubSpot Marketing Blog July 26, 2021 email-newsletter-examples