Descartes Labs, a company that provides information about Earth derived from satellite imagery, announced today that it raised $30 million in a series B round led by LA-based March Capital. Crosslink Capital, Cultivian Sandbox, and other investors who previously provided funding to Descartes also participated. Cargill, an agricultural conglomerate that is also one of the company’s customers, joined the round as well.
The funding will allow Descartes, which takes in tons of satellite imagery and processes it to help businesses make decisions and generate predictive models, to grow its business and tackle new data sources.
Descartes Labs is building what it calls a “data refinery” for processing raw data from a variety of sources and making it easier for companies to use and derive results from it. The company leverages a ton of cloud computing capabilities in order to make that happen — it once spun up 30,000 CPU cores in Google Cloud Platform to process a petabyte of satellite imagery in 16 hours.
But while the company’s business is growing, one thing will stay the same: its headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Having New Mexico as a base of operations for its team of 40 employees makes sense for Descartes, since the company spun out of Los Alamos National Laboratory less than three years ago. But as the company has grown, CEO Mark Johnson said that staying in Santa Fe has provided a number of benefits.
“We’re very focused here,” he said in an interview. “We live in a very beautiful part of the world, and since we’re trying to better understand the planet, the kinds of people who are attracted to a beautiful, nature-accessible place like Santa Fe are the exact kind of people that really care about doing great science.”
The city sports a thriving food and arts scene, and housing prices are lower than those in San Francisco and other tech hubs, meaning that it’s easier for the company’s employees to own homes. Descartes Labs is also one of the shining stars of New Mexico’s tech ecosystem, something that Johnson enjoys.
That said, it wasn’t easy building a high tech startup in Santa Fe. Johnson said it was tough to raise the company’s initial funding rounds, though that process has become easier.
“I talked to a ton of investors, and New Mexico, lab spin-out, those are sort of anathema to a lot of investment strategies,” he said. “When I was raising series A, [I heard] a similar tune. I got lectures from some VCs about how even if I thought I could build a company in New Mexico now, I was never going to be able to do it.”
For this most recent round, Johnson said that many of the investors he spoke to saw the company’s location as more of a strength than a weakness. In addition, the company has traction now, which makes raising money easier.
Johnson also said that keeping the company in Santa Fe means that employees join for the opportunity to work on the problems that it tackles, rather than as a stepping stone to something bigger.
“One of the surprising filters that’s created by a place like New Mexico is that no one moves here to become a millionaire,” he said. “No one moves here to go network, no one moves here because this is a rung on their career ladder.”
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