Aerospace Incubator Starburst Is Lifting Industry in LA

In the five years since French space and defense technology accelerator Starburst Aerospace announced plans to open its first American office in El Segundo, the aerospace industry has grown rapidly in Los Angeles County.

Plucky startups now compete and collaborate with established giants like Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., and investors and government agencies are taking notice of rapidly growing young businesses like Phase Four Inc. and Slingshot Aerospace Inc.

The South Bay’s aerospace industry was experiencing a resurgence prior to Starburst’s arrival in 2015, but El Segundo Deputy City Manager Barbara Voss said the accelerator has been instrumental in building connections among the many aerospace companies that exist alongside Los Angeles International Airport and the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

“We are seeing the larger aerospace companies starting to partner with startup companies more frequently,” she said. “They look for those companies with the big ideas. Large defense contractors are looking for innovation.”

Starburst co-founder Van Espahbodi said the opportunity to develop partnerships among aerospace companies in the area drew the accelerator to El Segundo.

The small city “is the epicenter of aerospace engineering talent, with a proud heritage of industry, and a springboard for nascent businesses,” he said in an email.

Since launching in Paris in 2012, Starburst has invested in 45 aerospace startups, guiding them through a yearlong business development program in which company founders receive coaching and guidance from industry veterans.

Starburst now has offices in six cities, but the El Segundo location is its largest base of operations and flagship office.

The incubator proved its commitment to developing local talent when it partnered with Techstars last year to launch a new Los Angeles-based accelerator for early stage space technology companies.

Slingshot co-founder Melanie Stricklan served as an adviser to participants in the program and said the accelerator has been a “major champion and catalyst for aerospace technology.”

Espahbodi, she added, “builds champion teams out of early stage startups through his ability to connect, inspire and facilitate innovation.”

For his part, Espahbodi credits Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for its role in building new opportunities for aerospace professionals in the Los Angeles area.

The success of SpaceX, he said, has “opened the floodgates for entrepreneurs raising nontraditional capital, setting investment records (and) ultimately shaping a new economy,” he said.

Along with attracting a broad base of skilled tech workers, SpaceX and other innovative aerospace companies have brought throngs of eager investors to the area, Espahbodi said. Many of the fledgling companies Starburst has worked with have already brought in millions of dollars in seed funding and early series raises.