Deep Tech: A Challenging Concept To Catalyze Change

James Dargan

According To Swati Chaturvedi

Living in 2021 as we do, it’s very hard to escape from the fact our lives are dominated by technology, and it’s easy to say that when a new company comes about, by definition it “is a tech company”, as for it to operate and scale it must utilize technologies like the internet and software already in place to feed the beast. Of course, a new barbershop that has opened up on Main Street — even when employing social media for commercial purposes — can’t be called a tech company, but you sort of get the message, I hope.

However, we are now in an era where even the word “tech” can be misplaced when used to talk about a special kind of company, one whose energies and intellectual property (IP) are in what we call the deep tech sphere. The term deep tech — though “hard tech” can also be used interchangeably — is the work of Propel(x)’s CEO and cofounder Swati Chaturvedi, who came up with it in about 2015.

But what exactly is “deep tech”? And what distinguishes it from your ever-so-late-twentieth-century-or-ever-so-early-twentieth-first-century epithet “tech”?

As a catch-all term “deep tech” refers to enterprises whose business is based on a disruptive engineering innovation or purposeful scientific discovery that, once ready, will transform people’s lives and redefine markets, either directly or indirectly through technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and big data that adopts a rigorous scientific approach.

As per the Deeptech Insider’s website, we define the deep tech categories as such:

• Advanced Materials: new materials and modifications to existing materials that yield a superior performance

• Artificial Intelligence: algorithms and computer systems that can perform tasks that were originally performed by humans

• Biotechnology: the creation of valuable products by exploiting existing biological processes or by developing new ones

• New Energy: the discovery of novel ways of generating energy

• Robotics: design, construction, and use of machines to perform tasks in an automated fashion

• Quantum: new types of computers, sensors and communication approaches using the principles of quantum mechanics

• Space: advances in equipment and approaches to improve satellite delivery, space travel and eventually inter-planetary transportation and colonization

  • Virtual Reality: artificial environments experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer

Disruptive Players

As well as promising a paradigm shift from their novel IP, they can also be an exciting opportunity for investors from venture capital (VC) firms as the risks incurred with their business model offer reasonably low valuations that can, through an acquisition or IPO, offer massive financial returns to those involved.

Two great examples of deep tech companies that are already disruptive are AI company DeepMind Technologies and Aromyx, a company that provides a platform for the digital capture of scent and taste.

“We define deep technology as companies founded on a scientific discovery or meaningful engineering innovation. This is where you’re asking, “Aren’t all technology companies founded on these principles?” Partly yes, but mostly no. Most technology companies these days are built on business model innovation or offline to online business model transition using existing technology. Take Uber for example — Uber is built on the concept of a “sharing economy” — a business model innovation enabling individuals to share existing resources.

Deep technology companies, on the other hand, are built on tangible scientific discoveries or engineering innovations. They are trying to solve big issues that really affect the world around them. For example, a new medical device or technique fighting cancer, data analytics to help farmers grow more food, or a clean energy solution trying to lessen the human impact on climate change. Continuing the Uber reference, deep-technology companies in the transportation business would include autonomous vehicles, flying cars or other similar transformative technologies.”

— Swati Chaturvedi, CEO, Propel(x); Partner, Newton Fund

London-based DeepMind Technologies, a British AI subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., was founded in 2010 and has amazingly created a neural network that can learn how to play video games just like us, as well as its Neural Turing machine —  a neural network that may be able to access an external memory like a conventional Turing machine, resulting in a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain.

More recently, the company has made important inroads for solutions in protein folding, too.

Aromyx, founded in 2006, is taking taste and scent to the digital world. Its sensing technology is the first to digitize and quantify what human receptors can detect and transmit to the brain. By capturing the highly sensitive detection ability of these receptors, Aromyx can deliver data that will change how companies design products, target demographics, forecast trends, and solve global issues around health and sustainability.

The two above are prime examples of deep tech companies that have been developing their research for a number of years and own their own patents. As well as this, they possess a board of advisors whose technical and commercial acumen is second to none.

These, along with a whole host of others, are set to change our world. And The Deeptech Insider — through stories, analysis and data collection — will be along for the ride.

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