Satellite Design Start-Up Chooses Prescott

Prescott’s technology sector revved up in May with two 2018 aerospace graduates from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) returning as entrepreneurial professionals to jumpstart their new business venture, Katalyst Space Technologies, LLC.

“While many of my students over the years wanted to stay and start their careers in Prescott, Ghonhee Lee is the first one to actually do it,” said Rick Gibson, an associate professor in ERAU’s School of Business and a mentor to Lee. “I think Katalyst Space Technologies will be very successful.”

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Ghonhee Lee had kept ties with Prescott while starting his career with a major aerospace industry firm in Tucson after graduation. Chief Technology Officer Nicholas Liapis went on to earn his master’s in aerospace engineering at ERAU-Daytona. Co-founder Kaleb Beebout acquired four patents for inventions in a previous startup.

“We want to challenge ourselves to the limit,” Lee said. “The industry needs innovators to drive acceleration in satellite development. Our technology is absolutely necessary to push the world to adopt more sustainable approaches to satellite operations.”

Katalyst specializes in satellite design and architecture to build satellites from the ground up utilizing systems and components readily updated and replaced at the end of their useful life, Lee explained. The firm offers proprietary Communication Network Design to government, commercial, private and public sector entities such as global satellite telecommunications operators, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

“Our company culture respects people as individuals with a strong emphasis on different needs, bypassing a rigid organizational structure that essentially pays people to sit in chairs for nine hours a day,” Lee said. “This cultural approach, along with our philosophy of work, is just as exciting to me as our technology.”

Lee, Liapis and Beebout “thrive on wearing many hats,” Lee explained. “While my focus is the long-term strategy and vision, Nick dials in the engineering solutions, and Kaleb pushes innovation. Our strength stems from individual immersion deep into these very diverse disciplines and the ability to ‘cross over’ when making mission-critical decisions.”

With a growth trajectory to 27 full-time employees by year-end 2021, Katalyst just wrapped up a five-student summer internship program and currently supports two interns in fall co-ops. The firm was in a unique position over the summer to offer internship opportunities to students as other programs collapsed under the pandemic.

Internships hasten “proper professional guidance of highly motivated student talent, the growth opportunity for participants to expand well beyond the standard curriculum at their schools, and the potential to introduce a ‘rapid-fire accelerated green-field project that comes around once in a career to start from scratch,’” Lee said. “It is amazing what a team can accomplish when you trust and empower them with the final responsibility while providing the support they need to get the job done. Our summer internship has been an excellent example of synergizing with and capitalizing on the untapped resources of the area.”

Prescott’s “natural beauty, strong outdoor recreation, tight community, and very strong backbone of intellectual talent pool” drew Katalyst to the community, Lee shared. “We love all that Prescott has to offer and want to blend that into our vision for the future.”

ERAU Professor of Cyber Intelligence and Security Jon Haass, Ph.D., said that the “timing dovetails with the city’s newly-approved seed investment in the Center for the Future business incubator, for which the Prescott City Council just released $92,500 in preliminary startup funds that will allow outreach and attraction to other companies like Katalyst.”

Meanwhile, Katalyst has received support from the Northern Arizona Technology Alliance (NATA), former ERAU Chancellor Frank Ayers, and Scott Hathcock and David Johns of Flagstaff’s Moonshot at the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NACET).

“These young people started their company with money they saved,” said Jim Robb, NATA founding member and City of Prescott economic development consultant. “They left jobs at Boeing and Raytheon to incubate in Prescott. They are to be admired for their courage and inspiration to help with Prescott’s future. I enjoy working with them because they are as enthusiastic as they are smart.”

Lee’s motivation for Katalyst arose from disenchantment with what he described as the slow pace of development at traditional aerospace companies, despite industry promises of deep space exploration and colonies on the moon.

“Our ability to build the right team and intellectual capital is critical to our success here in Prescott,” Lee concluded. “Just as our products offer incredible flexibility to our customers, we as a team must remain flexible, adaptable and agile. It’s all about mindset and willpower: the mindset to challenge accepted norms and the willpower to take novel approaches to the wall.

“Prescott has a lot of potential, but as it is, it doesn’t offer everything we need to keep our company here in the long run. We need something like the Center for the Future to make that happen.” QCBN

By Sue Marceau, QCBN