Richard Branson has acquired a stake in Seraphim Space Investment Trust Plc, the first venture capital fund focused on the space sector, as part of a 178 million-pound ($247 million) initial public offering.
The billionaire purchased stock in London-based Seraphim, Will Whitehorn, the company’s chairman, said in an interview. He declined to disclose the size of the commitment.
Branson is backing the U.K. firm as his own Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. prepares to carry tourists to the edge of space. The entrepreneur and five other crew rocketed to an altitude of 53 miles in a test flight Sunday, high enough to experience weightlessness and view the curvature of the Earth. Virgin Group confirmed that Branson is a Seraphim investor.
Whitehorn, a former Virgin Galactic president, said Airbus SE was among other parties to buy shares of Seraphim, which is set to start trading Wednesday on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. The European planemaker rolled over its existing investment in Seraphim funds.
The closed-ended investment firm said the IPO had been oversubscribed, with applications scaled back to equal the 150 million pounds originally targeted. A further 28.4 million pounds has been raised in connection with the acquisition of 15 initial assets.
Whitehorn said the positioning of the flotation between Branson’s space mission and another to be flown on July 20 by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos was entirely fortuitous and came about after the Seraphim IPO was delayed.
“A lot of our advisers thought we were taking a risk once they saw the timing of Richard’s flight,” he said. “It could have been that things did not work out quite so well.”
Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co. arranged the sale.
Proceeds will be used to bulk up existing stakes in 19 fledgling businesses that risk dilution as they raise money at higher valuations. Companies such as Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Branson’s Virgin Orbit have brought attention to the sector by making satellite launches less costly, creating opportunities for new businesses in space. The Seraphim portfolio features five “unicorns” — startups valued at more than $1 billion.
Seraphim has been investing in space since 2016 and is switching to a listed vehicle so that backers can achieve returns without the firm needing to exit assets. About half of the IPO proceeds will be reserved for startups with no U.K. links, in which it previously had been unable to invest.