In January 2005, we named Burt Rutan Inc.'s 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year after his SpaceShipOne became the first privately funded craft to launch a human being into outer space. Since then, Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, has joined with Richard Branson's Virgin Group to start another business--the Spaceship Co., which will manufacture a fleet of spacecraft.
Last December, Virgin Galactic, Branson's commercial space travel subsidiary, announced it had reached an agreement with New Mexico to build a $200 million spaceport there. The state will front most of the initial cost, with Virgin repaying the loan over the next 20 years.
Rutan is currently ironing out designs for a new, larger spacecraft, and Virgin Galactic expects to launch commercial operations in 2008. By then the $200,000 tickets could be hard to come by. At presstime, Virgin counted more than 40,000 advance (but unpaid) reservations. Plus, 50 astronaut wannabes had each put down deposits of $20,000 to $100,000, and 75 more had already paid in full.
Brightstar Shines Over Asia
In March 2004, we reported on the most important sales pitch of Marcelo Claure's career. The 33-year-old was trying to convince a trio of venture capitalists to buy a $50 million stake in Brightstar, his upstart cell phone distributor. He had planned to use the cash to take the company global, in preparation for a go at the public markets. After Claure scored the venture money, Brightstar filed for an IPO in August 2004. The company withdrew the filing months later, citing "market conditions and certain other factors." Meanwhile, Claure opened offices in India and Australia, where the company recently inked a deal to become the exclusive handset source for Telstra, the nation's biggest carrier. And Brightstar's revenue jumped from $1.2 billion in 2003 to $2.2 billion last year. Three months ago, the company set up shop in Hong Kong. "We're very focused on our global expansion," says COO Denise Gibson. The company expects revenue to top $3 billion this year and says an IPO is still a possibility.