Geospatial Analysis Firm Orbital Insight Raises $50 Million

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Orbital Insight, a geospatial big data company, completed a $50 million Series C round of financing led by venture capital firm Sequoia. The fresh capital brings the company’s total fundraising to $78.7 million. Orbital last raised a $20 million round in June of last year.

Envision Ventures, Balyasny Asset Management, Geodesic Capital, ITOCHU Corporation and Intellectus Partners joined Sequoia in the latest round. Earlier investors GV, Lux Capital and CME Ventures also participated.

Palo Alto-based Orbital Insight intends to use the fresh capital expand its partnerships, increase its analytics products, and build bigger international sales operations in Europe and Asia.  Investor Geodesic Capital regularly helps startups access Asian markets and investor ITOCHU is a Japanese firm.

The 50-person company is currently recruiting for 17 new positions, including an energy analyst for the firm’s Financial Services and Trading vertical.  The role is responsible for performing tradability modeling and analysis using the firm’s geo-analytics datasets.  The position description says “Quantitative background and knowledge of Python and R extremely favorable.”

Investment Research Offerings

Using machine learning, Orbital Insight has scaled broader retail coverage than more established geospatial competitors like RS Metrics.  The company conducts daily car counts in the parking lots of 60 retailers, about twice the coverage of RS Metrics.  It has also initiated coverage for 28 additional retailers over the past year.

The scale of its car counts is broad enough to support economic metrics such as a US Retail Traffic Index which measures nationwide retail traffic at over 100,000 parking lots.  The firm also offers metrics on mall traffic and has created REIT specific metrics, including coverage of 7 REITs primarily invested in shopping malls.

Another geospatial technique is to estimate oil inventories by measuring the shadows of oil tanks.  The firm has launched crude oil storage indices to gauge oil supplies.

By measuring shadows of buildings under construction, it has developed indices to gather information on real estate development in China.  By combining real estate gauges with other techniques—such as car density, truck density, electricity consumption through nighttime illumination, and road building—the firm is developing economic activity indicators for thirty major Chinese cities.

Our Take

Orbital Insight is by far the best capitalized geospatial analysis firm which is allowing it to distance its competitors.  RS Metrics, which since 2010 has been providing car counts of US retailers and now tracks around 30 publicly traded consumer stocks, and UK-based Geospatial Insight, started in 2012, both primarily rely on manual interpretation of satellite imagery, making it difficult for them to scale their analysis.

More recent competitor SpaceKnow, which was founded by a former NASA analyst in 2013, uses similar techniques to Orbital Insight and has been able to also scale quickly.  However, it is not as well funded as OI, having raised $5.2 million to date.

Orbital Insight has broader ambitions than simply focusing on the financial vertical. However, it has already demonstrated creativity in applying diverse geospatial techniques to develop relevant metrics for investment analysis.  As it expands its analysis outside the US its investment research capabilities will only increase.

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About Author

Sandy Bragg is a principal at Integrity Research Associates. He has over thirty years experience as an investment research professional. Prior to joining Integrity in 2006, he was an Executive Managing Director at Standard & Poors, managing S&P’s equity research business and fund information properties. Sandy has an MBA from New York University and BA from Williams College. Email: Sanford.Bragg@integrity-research.com

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