Many of the world’s most pressing problems — from addressing climate change, developing sustainable food and water systems, and improving human health and wellbeing — depend critically on the successful commercialisation of fundamental science and engineering innovations that are often referred to collectively as “Deep Tech”.
Deep Tech is a new chapter in the innovation story, bringing together science, engineering and design thinking. Imagine technologies like Artificial intelligence, Robotics, Blockchain, Synthetic Biology, Quantum computing and many others, when combined with each other and blended with engineering and design science, are making what’s seemingly impossible, possible.
This is the story of deep tech.
Deep tech innovations are defined as disruptive solutions built around unique, protected or hard-to-reproduce technological or scientific advances. Deep tech companies have a strong research base. They focus on fundamental issues, identifying physical constraints in industries not solved for decades. Too many disciplines are needed for a single venture to go forward. Deep Tech is about cooperation, not competition.
Why does Deep Tech matter to you, the reader?
It matters because it is happening now, all around us. This approach is changing what was once considered impossible into something actively possible today. There are a plethora of sectors that benefit from deep tech’s enabling capabilities.
Consider SpaceX, a deep tech pioneer, who disrupted this industry by building reusable rockets and spaceships. They were able to achieve this by combining advanced materials and chemicals developed in the last 20 years with vertical integration and the modular approach of modern software engineering.
2. Life sciences
According to the Boston Consulting Group, the health market accounted for the biggest proportion of deep tech startups (51%) in 2020. The life sciences and biotech ecosystem has a clear path to commercialization, well-defined growth trajectories and milestones, significantly more capital than most, and better-established pathways to liquidity. Applications for deep tech within this field include AI diagnosis, wearables for health tracking and diagnostics, electronic health records that allow healthcare givers to personalise treatments, and virtual appointments.
3. Processing and computing
The computer has changed little in its essential design since it was first invented. With deep tech, computers can be custom-built to tackle specific areas or problems. Quantum computing is one such example of how deep tech could advance computing and processing capabilities—the necessity of which is driven by the adoption of other cutting-edge technologies, like machine learning, which have their own computing and processing requirements. Consider PASQAL for instance, which creatively uses fundamental physics combined with software engineering and data science to create an analog quantum processor.
4. Food and AgriTech
Using cutting-edge technologies like big data, blockchain, and biotech, startups in these sectors are enabling farmers to grow and harvest their crops for maximum efficiency, resilience, and yield. Synthetic biology is another frontier being explored and is, according to The Business Research Company, predicted to reach $27 billion by 2023. It’s hoped that, with it, we’ll be able to bring about the rapid evolution of natural systems and the creation of new, more sustainable ones.
So some of you might be thinking: What are the challenges for deep tech? Are there any technological risks? How can they be mitigated? Are investors ready to play the deep tech game?
The R&D cycle for deep tech firms is longer than regular startups, which means they’re more time and resource-consuming to set up. Deep tech startups find it challenging to secure investments—even from forward-thinking angel investors—because they find it hard to understand the potential of an idea which may not have been explored. But developing deep tech requires us to rethink our innovation approach.
Antoine Gourévitch says that these are four rules that govern successful deep tech ventures
- Be problem oriented, not technology focused.
- Deep Tech is about combining, intersecting and converging. It is about building and playing with the strengths of a cross disciplinary ecosystem.
- Adopt a design thinking approach powered by deep tech.
- Adopt a ruthless design to cost approach. Merging science with engineering requires having economics in mind.
Deep tech is quickly maturing now. Investors believe that 2022 is the “Year of deeptech” with many firms and VC’s changing their ideologies and jumping in to fund startups in these nascent sectors. Deep Tech is an ever growing opportunity in front of us waiting to be scaled further more than ever before.