In defence of DeepTech: so much more than flying cars and sending billionaires to space

Jessica HiggsHead of MarketingHuckletree22/03/2022

DeepTech is simply trying to prove the previously unprovable. It combines science with engineering and entrepreneurship, and solves some of the most complex problems facing humanity as a result.

DeepTech has a PR problem. Unlike FoodTech, HealthTech, ParentTech et al, DeepTech doesn’t exactly do what it says on the tin. What’s more, it faces issues in explaining why it’s meaningful when it involves things like quantum computing and flying cars (yep, you read that right), which sound too much like abstract science fiction for many. Critics say it’s just innovation for the sake of innovation (sending Jeff Bezos to space for 10 minutes, anyone?), but at its most basic, DeepTech is simply trying to prove the previously unprovable. DeepTech combines science with engineering and entrepreneurship, and solves some of the most complex problems facing humanity as a result. Few can refute DeepTech’s importance when they learn it led to the creation of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine, the first vaccine in the world to use an mRNA platform. So, we’re doing a DeepTech deep dive and exploring some of the companies in this sector who are, quite literally, changing the world.

Energy and Emissions

97% of DeepTech ventures contribute to at least one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Danish nuclear energy pioneers, Seaborg, are taking a completely fresh approach with the hope of revolutionising the existing market. The reactors they hope to build are not only safer, more sustainable and more cost-effective than conventional nuclear reactors, but they will be mounted on boats so they can move to where the need is - a stable energy source to supplement variable sources such as wind and solar. Not only will these power barges produce significant amounts of electricity but useful bi-products include desalinated seawater, carbon-neutral hydrogen, synthetic fuels and fertilisers. Win, win, and win again.

UK DeepTech startup, New Motion Labs, secured £750k of funding from the Green Angel Syndicate in March 2022. The company has redesigned roller chains, which have remained largely unchanged for 100 years, to reduce friction and therefore improve performance and lengthen lifespan by up to five times. These chains are being used in the eCargo bikes, which are increasingly becoming the transport mode of choice for last-mile deliveries in urban centres. These bikes are nearly twice as fast as van delivery and could save up to 37 million tonnes of CO2 across the UK. Small change, big impact.

(FYI our sustainability summit, Earthrise, is back for 2022 - 50 speakers spread across five global hubs exploring four themes critical to climate change. Interested in attending? Register here.)

Agriculture

Food insecurity is up there among the biggest issues facing humanity today. How do we support a growing global population using diminishing quantities of farmland in a sustainable way? As with most things, there isn’t one single solution but a huge variety of solutions that must work together.

Salisbury-based DeepTech startup, Phytoform Labs, secured $5.7M in Seed funding in December 2021 to scale up its AI-based technology, which hopes to fix the issue of crop resilience in a world of climate change. They’re using a combination of AI and genome editing technology to create crops that will increase yield, while lowering the environmental impact of agriculture. With scientific studies showing that pests will consume up to 25% more wheat, rice and maize across the globe for each single degree rise in climate temperature, this kind of DeepTech venture is sorely needed.

77% of our planet’s agricultural space is dedicated to producing meat, which only comprises 18% of our calorie intake. You don’t need to be a maths whizz to work out those stats don’t stack up. Enter Ivy Farm Technologies, which secured $20M in seed funding in December 2021 with the aim of becoming the UK’s first commercial producer of lab-grown meats, with cultured sausages scheduled to be on shelves by 2023. This production process uses less space, no antibiotics or genetic modification and is kinder to animals, which means it won’t be long before we can all scoff as many guilt-free sausages as we like. Roll on 2023.

Medicine & Health

DeepTech is quickly becoming the disruptor of the MedTech industry, which is notorious for moving at a glacial pace.

Three words: minimal access surgery. Essentially, using tiny incisions to complete surgical procedures. While widely considered a better way of operating for both patients and surgeons, it’s not as widespread as you’d think. Cambridge-based CMR Surgical was founded in 2015 to bring minimal access surgery to a far greater number of patients with their surgical robotics product, Versius. The device not only enables greater precision for surgeons and less invasive procedures for patients, but it collects a wealth of data to help medical professionals continually optimise and improve their performance. Having secured nearly £975M in funding across five rounds, most recently in June 2021, CMR Surgical is at the very forefront of the advancement of medicine through DeepTech.

Robotics are also front and centre of this next DeepTech pioneer: Open Bionics. The Bristol-based outfit, founded in 2014, manufactures low-cost 3D-printed bionic arms. Each prosthesis is custom-built to fit the wearer’s arm perfectly using 3D scanning and, what’s more, they offer a range of amazingly-designed covers for kids, featuring the Marvel Superheroes, Star Wars and Disney’s Frozen, so children can turn their arm difference into their very own superpower. Every person who wears an Open Bionics arm is part of the Bionic Squad; this business isn’t just about tech, it’s about community, inclusion and making the world a better place, all of which resonate with us here at Huckletree.

DeepTech has been slower to take off compared to other tech sectors, because of its aforementioned PR issues, but also because it’s inherently riskier - the complexity of the issues tackled makes ventures more liable to failure and often harder to commercialise. However, 2020 saw European investments into the sector surpass €10B and that is set to rise significantly in 2022 and beyond, so perhaps this sleeping giant is finally ready to rise from the deep and take on the world.


Jessica Higgs

Jess joined Huckletree having previously worked in the worlds of luxury travel and retail, on both the agency and in-house sides. She has a wealth of knowledge across both digital and offline marketing, and heads up Huckletree's marketing team. Superpower: card trickster extraordinaire.

jessica@huckletree.comLinkedIn

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