Every month we highlight one of the movers and shakers in the LA manufacturing and entrepreneurship community. This month we’re profiling Vandad Espahbodi of the Starburst Accelerator.
Krisztina “Z” Holly: So, what exactly is Starburst Accelerator?
Van Espahbodi: Starburst Accelerator is the world’s first aerospace accelerator, with offices in Los Angeles, Paris, Munich and Singapore. It brings the private sector, research and investment community together to accelerate business growth and opportunities for startups in aerospace.
Z: What inspired you to start your organization?
VE: Having worked for government, private defense and public private partnerships, it’s safe for me to say the real ability to have an impact is with the entrepreneur. Sadly, the brightest ones struggle to do business with old aerospace—so how can we bring them all together and present models that are working in other parts of the world?
Z: Who is your audience?
VE: Aerospace startups, investors, and corporate leaders.
Z: Tell us about how you support the community. What is your business model and what kind of services do you provide?
VE: We provide tech scouting and business development help for startups in the aerospace industry. We connect entrepreneurs with business leaders and investors. We’re success-fee based, which means we don’t take equity. Instead, it’s a sliding scale commission, depending on the size of the deal and the level of support needed to make it happen. Our success metrics are different; we’re interested in much faster sales cycles.
Z: What is the hardest thing about what these startups are trying to do? What is the most common mistake that they make?
VE: The most common mistake is depending on a single contact for a prolonged sales cycle. Aerospace is complicated, regulated, political and difficult to navigate. That’s why we put you in front of accountable decision makers committed to improving the startup ecosystem.
Z: What are your top three tips for success?
VE: 1) Consider alternative models for partnering so existing industry resources can share the burden of your cost base. 2) Think more holistically about what your technology offers, how does your customer benefit, and how do you shape your value proposition to reflect it. 3) The industry is waking up to the credibility of startups so you have a stronger negotiating position than you realize.
Z: What is one of the more memorable professional experiences or stories from your past that is relevant to what you are doing today?
VE: I grew up in the “fast money” culture of LA, and wanted nothing to do with it. I found refuge in old establishment political halls in DC and Europe. 15 years later I’m right back where I started, born again with a renewed love for LA as the ideal home for aerospace startups!
Z: What trend in the industry are you the most excited about?
VE: Manufacturing and infrastructure development in space. Think of the O’Neill Colony from Interstellar or the Death Star from Star Wars. The technology and investment case is real and happening now. Drones and space are the low-hanging fruit but there is so much more in between for improving the way we travel, passenger experience, connectivity, manufacturing, new materials, human machine interface and so much more!
Z: Who would be a candidate for Starburst Accelerator?
VE: Startups that want to amplify their offering to aerospace buyers, create a stronger pull or need coaching around procurement process and complex rules should apply. Also, startups that may want access to resources in kind and facilities that can ramp up their own product development in exchange for preferred IP rights.
Z: How can they find out more?
VE: Visit our website! http://starburstaccelerator.com/
About Vendad Espahbodi
Van Espahbodi is Co-Founder and Partner at Starburst Accelerator, bringing together operators, suppliers, inventors, and venture investors to accelerate innovation in the aerospace industry. He is committed to lowering the barriers for startups to introduce cutting edge technology into the industry supply chain. For 15+ years, Van has worked with governments and aerospace suppliers in business development leadership roles at Raytheon and the British air navigation services provider; helping shape regulations and develop key segments of airspace safety and infrastructure. Prior to that, he served as legislative aide for U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff and U.S. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Van currently serves as a member of the Economic Development Advisory Council for the City of El Segundo and the MIT Enterprise Forum. Following graduate studies at George Mason University in International Commerce and Public Policy, Van participated in executive programs at Thunderbird School of Global Management and Cranfield School of Management in the UK.
The interview has been edited for clarity.