Bridgit Mendler went from Disney star to space startup CEO with $6.3M in funding—it started with an accidental college major

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Bridgit Mendler’s path from Disney Channel star to space startup CEO started with — quite literally — an accident.

The 31-year-old is the CEO and co-founder of Northwood Space, a company based in El Segundo, California that aims to mass-produce ground stations — otherwise known as the antennae that communicate with space satellites. It’s a far cry from her youth spent as a child actor and recording artist, known for roles in Disney Channel shows and films like “Good Luck Charlie” and “Lemonade Mouth.”

“While everybody else was making their sourdough starters [during the Covid-19 pandemic], we were building antennas out of random crap we could find at Home Depot … and receiving data from [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] satellites,” Mendler told CNBC on Monday while announcing her startup.

Mendler was still acting on screen as recently as 2019 — but her new career path began more than a decade ago, when she unintentionally marked a box on her University of Southern California college application.

“I’m studying anthropology,” Mendler told ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2015. “But it was an accident … I was doing the application all on my own. I think I didn’t really understand how it worked. I put down like five different things that I would potentially want to be in as a major, and I got my acceptance letter, and it’s like, ‘You’re in anthropology.'”

The educational field resonated with her: She graduated from USC in 2016, and parlayed her anthropology degree into a master’s degree in humanity and technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018.

Earlier this year, she completed programs at the MIT Media Lab and Harvard Law School, obtaining a technology-focused PhD and a juris doctor degree. While at Harvard, she served as co-president of the Harvard Space Law Society, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“I have two engineer parents,” Mendler said at an Atlantic Live event in 2018. “My mom’s an architect and my dad designs car engines. So there was a lot of math-y science-y talk when I was a kid.” 

Mendler’s off-screen qualifications lend credence to Northwood, which she co-founded with her husband, CTO Griffin Cleverly, and head of software Shaurya Luthra — whom she referred to as her “two favorite ground nerds” in a LinkedIn post on Monday.

The startup is already on the radar of several venture capital investors, raking in $6.3 million in initial funding from firms like Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Also Capital and Humba Ventures.

Some of Northwood’s early employees have track records at Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Peter Thiel’s Palantir Technologies and aerospace technology company Northrop Grumman, Mendler noted in her LinkedIn post.

“At Northwood, we’re rethinking infrastructure for satellite backhaul from the ground up. We have our sights on building a data highway between earth and space,” she wrote, adding: “We have a lot of work ahead of us but that’s the fun part.

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