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With $25 Mn Funding, Pixxel Aims To Build Highest Resolution Hyperspectral Imagery Of The Earth

With $25 Mn Funding, Pixxel Aims To Build Highest Resolution Hyperspectral Imagery Of The Earth

The funding round was led by Canada-based Radical Ventures with participation from angel investors like Jordan Noone and institutional investors like Seraphim Space, Lightspeed, Blume, Sparta and Inventus Capital India.

The startup will use the funding to ramp up the production of its hyperspectral satellite constellation and to further commoditise its AI-powered insights

Founded in 2019, Pixxel is the brainchild of BITS Pilani-alumni Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, who began the startup while still studying in their final year of undergraduate studies.

Spacetech startup, Pixxel, has raised $25 Mn as part of its Series A funding round led by Canada-based Radical Ventures.

The round also saw participation from angel investors like Jordan Noone and other institutional investors like Seraphim Space Investment, Lightspeed Partners, Blume Ventures, Sparta and Inventus Capital India. 

The funding will enable Pixxel to ramp up the production of its hyperspectral satellite constellation. The spacetech startup plans to use the funding to commoditise its AI-powered insights at competitive market rates. 

Speaking to Inc42, Pixxel CEO, Awais Ahmed, said that the startup will also use the funding to launch six more satellites to kickoff its commercial expansion. In addition, Pixxel will also use the cash infusion to build a service platform to effectively utilise data from the imagery.

Essentially, high resolution imagery can provide a treasure-trove of remote sensing data that can be utilised for a slew of purposes like surveying land or canvassing climate change over a particular region. This data can be then analysed and can unlock a whole world of possibilities that can, at times, help remedy certain geographical changes.

Ahmed further added, “This funding will help us improve our software capabilities so that organisations of all sizes can access and understand this data.”

Building From Ground Up

Founded in 2019, Pixxel is the brainchild of BITS Pilani alumni Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, who began the startup while they were in their final year of undergraduate studies. 

Pixxel says that it is building a constellation of Earth-imaging satellites to enable its clients to detect, monitor and predict global phenomena in real-time. The data gathered from Pixxel’s satellites will be used to gain “actionable insights” for domains such as agriculture, oil and gas, climate change monitoring, among others. 

In June of 2019, Pixxel had raised $700K in pre-seed funding round from Techstars, growX ventures and others. The startup followed it up with a bumper seed round where it raised $7.3 Mn from VC firms like Blume Ventures, growX ventures and Lightspeed India. In total, the spacetech startup has raised $33 Mn in funding. 

A World Of Insights

Pixxel boasts of a proprietary Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning platform that it uses to leverage data from satellites. Ahmed told Inc42 that satellite imagery forms the base of the startup’s core signature libraries. Notably, prior to launching the satellite, the startup used drones to gather data and finesse its AI-model. The startup also leverages the in-house data capabilities of many of its large enterprise clients.

This data from clients helps the homegrown startup in data collection and calibrating its data for better insights on its AI platform.

Ahmed told Inc42 that the startup had achieved close to 90-95% accuracy and that it was a work in progress. He further said that it was vying for even higher data accuracy in the coming years.

The startup’s biggest claim to fame is its five-meter resolution imagery. With six satellites in the working, Pixxel will be able to provide the functionality over much of the Earth every 48 hours. 

The startup essentially operates in the hyperspectral imaging sphere, which provides better analysis of the earth’s surface as they cover far more of the light spectrum, producing a rich image that is better for data analysis. 

To put it in perspective, ordinary cameras barely scratch the surface as they capture just three colour values namely Red, Green and Blue (RGB) and their combinations. On the other hand, Pixxel collects multispectral imagery, capturing hundreds of ‘slices’ of the light spectrum. 

Pixxel made a significant headway after it launched its first hyperspectral satellite last year and recently, retrieved images from the said satellite. 

The satellite was launched in partnership with other spacetech startups – NanoAvionics and Dragonfly Aerospace – to capture the crop health of a Mexican farmland.

Meanwhile, Pixxel has also unveiled plans about its next launch. SpaceX’s upcoming April Transporter-4 mission will carry Pixxel’s hyperspectral satellite into space soon.

Making The Moolah

The startup operates on a recurrence subscription model and charges customers based on specific metrics like per sq km or image. It also licenses image data and analysis from its satellites for perusal by its clients.

In addition, the startup focuses on two aspects of revenue actualisation — partnering with government bodies and working with private companies. 

Pixxel helps government bodies generate data on its constituencies and use it to catalogue areas and figure out solutions for problems plaguing certain areas.

On the other hand, it also works with large companies like Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. CEO Ahmed told Inc42 that the partnership enabled Rio Tinto to map its mining areas and streamline its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) mandates. 

Additionally, the startup also works with companies in a slew of other domains like Oil and Gas, Fertilisers, among others. When pressed to name other clients, Ahmed cited confidential company data as a reason for revealing the clients.

The spacetech startup also works with analytics companies like SatSure in India and leverages its data to streamline its operations.

Pixxel is based out of Bengaluru in India and California (Palo Alto). Ahmed told Inc42 that Bengaluru serves as the ‘tech-office’ of the startup, with R&D and testing completely based in India. He further added that the US served as the ‘commercial hub’ of the startup to attract more global clients to its kitty. 

In a chat with Inc42, Ahmed also said that half of the startup’s clients were based out of the US, with another 30-40% based out of the European Union. The rest 10%, he added, were from the Asia-Pacific region.

The Road Ahead

Awais Ahmed also underlined the startup’s prospective in the coming years. He said that, in the short term, Pixxel was focused on launching the satellites and would progressively then work on adding more than 30 satellites to its constellation. Highlighting the startup’s long term plans, Ahmed said that it was vying for tying up with different space agencies across the globe to explore the solar system.

The startup also seems to be bogged down by a few challenges. While regulatory issues seem to be the lesser of worries, the startup seems to be more concerned about supply chain issues. This has led to delayed deliveries of parts, which, in turn, has slowed plans of the companies and increased costs. Supply chain issues have mostly been amplified by COVID-19 pandemic which has snapped supply chain links and wreaked havoc across the globe.

Notably, the company faces stiff competition from mostly US-based players in the domain which include HySpecIQ and Orbital Sidekick. In response to a question about this, Ahmed said that the startup was well poised to compete with these players, adding that Pixxel provided a better quality of data on the back of its 5-metre resolution imagery. 

In addition to this, Ahmed also said that manufacturing in India provided Pixxel with a cost advantage which its global peers seemed not to have. He also reiterated that Pixxel was well ahead of its competitors in terms of satellite deployment, which gave it a big edge over other players in the domain.

Space sector is witnessing rapid liberalisation under the current government. This was visible when the government allocated INR 13.7K Cr in Budget 2022, an increase of INR 1,058 Cr over the revised estimate. 

An Inc42 research estimates that India has more than 120 active startups in the spacetech sector. From rocket technology ventures such as Bellatrix to satellite makers such as Dhruva Space, India’s space startups are rising up the occasion. 

An Inc42 report also estimates that the commercial spacetech market is expected to grow to $77 Bn by 2030.