Money makers: British space firm shoots for the stars

Mike Lawton
Lawton: inspired by Star Wars, grounded in reality

“As a kid, I wanted to pilot the Millennium Falcon [a spaceship in Star Wars], but then you get older and reality kicks in,” British space entrepreneur Mike Lawton tells Matthew Caines in the Daily Telegraph.

So instead of flying spacecraft, Lawton builds parts for them. His start-up, Oxford Space Systems (OSS), specialises in deployable antennas, booms and panel systems – the vital, if unglamorous, structures that enable a craft to operate in the extreme conditions of space. It develops its own flexible composite materials, which enables it to make products that weigh and cost less than those of its competitors.

Lawton came up with the nub of what OSS would become while serving as the entrepreneur-in-residence for a battery builder, ABSL Space Products, in 2011. “In the same way that spacecraft need batteries, they also need deployable structures – even Sputnik 1 had four whip antennas,” says Lawton. After leaving battery giant EnerSys (which had bought ABSL), he won £100,000 from Innovate UK in November 2013 to turn his idea into a company, and within eight weeks he had another £500,000 from venture capitalists.

Then OSS won another competition held by the UK Space Agency to fly its boom product into space. “Having… high-definition photographs of our boom in orbit with the Earth in the background was gold dust,” says Lawton. “I could sit in front of potential customers and show them that instead of being aspirational, we were flying our own hardware in space.” Today, OSS has 32 staff and an annual turnover just shy of £1m, as it transitions from research to commercial sales.

Taking on the tech titans

In 2011 Adam Foroughi, 38, went looking for funding in Silicon Valley, say Devon Pendleton and Claire Boston on Bloomberg. “Everyone shot us down,” says Foroughi. He and his partners ended up self-funding the start-up, AppLovin – a mobile advertising platform that also helps video-game developers attract users on smartphones. Nevertheless, within a year, the company had generated $10m in revenue, leading to $4m in investment from angel investors. Since 2014 revenue has grown by more than 500% to $634m, due to the explosion in mobile gaming.

AppLovin expects to generate $100m in free cash flow over the next year, despite Facebook and Google making up 80% of the mobile advertising market. Foroughi owns just more than half the company. In 2016, Chinese private equity firm Orient Hontai Capital offered to buy a majority stake. In July, private equity firm KKR & Co bought a third of the company, valuing AppLovin at $2bn. Foroughi credits his parents, who left their business behind when they fled Iran for California in 1984, for giving him the drive to succeed.

The high priestess of YouTube yoga

There are more than 2,400 people in the main hall of Alexandra Palace in north London, breathing in unison, says Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian. They have come to take part in a yoga session led by Adriene Mishler, 34, a yogi and actress from Texas. Her YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene, has four million subscribers. Search “yoga” on Google, and Adriene dominates. “She’s quite a phenomenon,” enthuses an attendee, who has travelled from Swansea to Alexandra Palace.

“Find what feels good” has been Mishler’s motto since she started in 2012 – her followers recite it with almost evangelical fervour. It’s a mantra that has certainly proved lucrative. Mishler earns revenue from her YouTube channel (analytics firm Social Blade puts it at £284,000 a year) and she has a sponsorship deal with Adidas. Subscribers can also pay $9.99 a month to access extra content on her Find What Feels Good website.

An Oprah Oscar for eyebrows

Anastasia Soare“People think I’m the eyebrow police,” Anastasia Soare tells Hattie Crisell in The Times. No wonder. Soare has turned eyebrow grooming into a business that Forbes values at $1.5bn, using what she calls “the golden ratio” – finding the right alignment between the nose, eyes and brows. Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham and Amal Clooney are among clients. Her story, however, is even more impressive.

Having studied beauty in Romania, Soare left the still-communist country in 1989 to join her husband, a defector from the navy, in Los Angeles. There, she settled into waxing and doing facials. One day, a customer, who was a modelling agent, returned with a van full of supermodels, including Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour and Cindy Crawford. A-listers Michelle Pfeiffer, Faye Dunaway and Jennifer Lopez started visiting.

“Then, in 1998, Oprah [Winfrey] invited me to do her eyebrows on her show,” says Saore. “It was like getting an Oscar. The phone would not stop ringing for six months.”

The brand’s Instagram account, set up by Soare’s daughter, Claudia, who is also brand president, has 18 million followers. “Look, I went to the United States with a desire to be significant,” she says. “If I started doing flowers, I still think I would have found ways to be the best florist on the planet. That’s my personality.”