Last summer, we launched #LaunchCEO (pun intended), a new event segment designed to shine a light on North Texas CEO’s taking bold ideas and creative innovation to the next level at our monthly Dallas New Tech events.
For our June #BigDNT event, we invited Marshall Culpepper, CEO of Kubos and “space hacker,” to take the stage in what we know will be an unforgettable fireside chat. Culpepper shared his love of open share culture, what it’s like to launch your wildest dream, and how he got funding from Tim Draper, one of the biggest Silicon Valley funders.
In a culture that is pushing back on the concept of “busyness,” Marshall Culpepper is a leader who is truly busy. As the co-founder of two companies – TechMill Denton, a nonprofit organization for Denton tech builders, and Kubos, a satellite software startup – Culpepper added another title in fall 2017: owner of Stoke Denton, a workspace for startups, entrepreneurs, and tech-enabled companies.
For anyone familiar with Culpepper’s background, the Stoke Denton role isn’t a surprise move. The entrepreneur is known in the North Texas startup scene as a connector responsible for cultivating the Denton startup community.
At his core, Culpepper is a man of the people both in his field and among the startup community. If you check his LinkedIn profile, he states he is “trying to change the world through open source software.” That’s because when he started programming in the mid-90s, the open source software movement was beginning to take off.
“It’s because of that community that I was able to learn how to write software,” he said. “This ‘give first’ mentality has paid of huge dividends in my life, and so it’s a central part of my identity.”
On Taking His Startup to the Cosmos
After a career that included time at Nortel Networks, J Boss Inc., Mozilla, and Spire Global, where his project was successfully delivered and deployed to the International Space Station, Culpepper went his own route, launching TechMill Denton and Kubos.
The self-described “space hacker” said of the ISS project: “Before the satellite launched it was just crazy stressful; you’re worried about all the way things can fail, and if you’ll have everything ready in time for the launch deadline. After the satellite was launched, we received HD photos/videos of the deployment, and we made first contact. It was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. Once you put something in space, you can’t go back.”
It was this excitement and the lack of companies doing what Culpepper wanted to do – make universally used spacecraft software – that inspired Kubos.
The company focuses on improving developer productivity and flight software quality, with a platform that includes everything a satellite mission needs, from mission design and on-board software to hardware test and mission operations in the cloud. Customers end up getting to space months, if not years, faster and reduce satellite operational costs by 90 percent by using Kubos software. Users vary from commercial operators like DirecTV and Iridium to governments, space agencies, and universities.
Silicon Valley Connections
Culpepper’s up-in-the-sky business has attracted serious investors from Silicon Valley, including Tim Draper. After trying and failing to raise funds locally in 2015, Culpepper made a conscious decision to spend all of his energy finding backers in Silicon Valley. “Many of my investors and colleagues in Silicon Valley assume I live there or have lived there recently because of how often they see me,” he said. The strategy worked; Draper invested $1.65 million of the $3 million Kubos has raised to date.
Despite North Texas challenges with access to early stage and later stage capital for high-growth tech-focused startups, Culpepper notes that the region has amazing access to talent and a low cost to starting a tech business.
“I think incredible progress has been made in the last five years in our community,” he said. “But we still have a long way to go to reach the kind of supportive ecosystem that exists in places like New York or Silicon Valley. I’m excited to get to be a part of that!”
Community at the Core
As the founder of TechMill Denton, a nonprofit that focuses on building and promoting the tech startup community, it seems natural that Culpepper found his way to Stoke Denton. After the city of Denton took over the coworking space, he applied to be the new leader. As part of his application, he had to submit his vision for Stoke; six months into his tenure, he and his team have surpassed every metric put forward.
Whether his vision is focused on space or the future of the Denton startup community, Marshall Culpepper is thinking big and attracting backers, both financial and communal. Come hear his story in person at Dallas New Tech on Tuesday, June 5. Happy hour kicks off at 6; programming begins at 7. Get your ticket.