An Ohio company with an eye toward the sky is making major strides toward using its innovative propulsion technology in lower orbit. Headquartered in Cincinnati suburb Lebanon, Velontra is building an engine capable of hypersonic speeds. Just a year ago, they were a little-known startup bootstrapping and trying to find investors and contracts. But now, business is taking off — literally.
“A year ago, we had lots of great ideas and were beginning to get some traction and interest, but it was a lot of thinking that people were interested or might pay for this,” said CEO and co-founder Robert Keane. “Now, we’re starting to get contracts and paying customers, as well as significant investment. So we’ve shifted from, ‘We can do this’ to getting our shot. We have the funding and the ability and we’re getting things done — it’s time to execute. We’re ready to show instead of tell.”
Since TechOhio last spoke to the Velontra team, they’ve completed a pre-seed investment raise, established their first commercial contract for their propulsion system with Venus Aerospace and, perhaps most exciting, were accepted into the world-renowned Y-Combinator accelerator, known for working with some of the country’s most exciting startups. For Keane, that milestone is a major one.
“Y-Combinator is one of the premier business accelerators in the world,” he said. “Not only does it come with an investment, but it comes with mentorship and a team that will really help guide us and develop us and get us in touch with some of the largest investors and synergistic partners in the world. This is an accelerator that produced Uber, AirBnB and others, so it gives us a stamp of approval. It really opens doors for us, and helps us be taken very seriously.”
But even before their Y-Combinator journey begins, Velontra is on the right track. Having parties already interested in their product means the company’s timeline is advancing all the time. Now, they hope to have a functional product within a year, a much earlier goal than they had previously aimed for.
“It puts us well ahead of the game to have a paid customer for our propulsion system,” Keane said. “These developments are going to accelerate our own development timeline by a year, so we’re ahead of schedule. We’re going to be able to get the tech out of our building and have it actually be used. Not only is that really cool, but it helps us with revenue and gaining traction and everything else. Our current goal is to get our propulsion system flying within a year.”
The purpose of Velontra, however, hasn’t changed. They want their propulsion system to be used for travel into low earth orbit, the area of earth’s orbit where SpaceX and other companies are sending satellites by the thousands. As an increasing demand for internet and other communications expands, that tech is becoming more in-demand than ever.
“If anything, the lower-orbit focus has become a bigger portion of the business,” Keane said. “We had a lot of learning that improved our business model and helped us get to where we are, and a big part was focusing on that. We have tens of millions of dollars in letters of intent from satellite companies that are actively launching these kinds of contracts and are very interested in what we can do. That really helps us focus and show investors what we’re doing.”