The blurring of boundaries of humans, machines, and nature could be the foundation for the new revenue your startup needs.
Sometimes in life, things find you; rather than you seeking them out. That was the case with how I became introduced to deep tech. Early in my career, I knew I was destined to be a consultant. I was always fascinated with how powerfully an outside perspective could shed light on a strategy that could take a business to new heights. Working as a consultant in Europe and the US for 25 years, I worked in management consulting, private equity and big pharma. I enjoyed giving advice to some of the biggest companies in the world. During my time as a consultant, I witnessed the downfall of Enron. Once the name of a business, it is now a word that epitomizes greed, dishonesty, and lack of ethics. One of my core values is integrity, and when I saw first-hand how corruption and lack of good corporate governance practices could create a ripple effect of loss and suffering, it made a lasting impression and kindled inside me the desire to find something new.
After taking a sabbatical from big pharma, playing golf, and getting my daughter settled in college in another country, I spent six weeks just on myself. Not only was it refreshing, but word spread that I was a free agent, and I soon had a number of companies offering me positions. I found myself most interested in a company that touted itself as a deep tech company. The term was new, and when I dug deeper into what made the company deep tech, I was fascinated.
My passion has always been bridging science and commercialization, and when I learned that deep tech is the fusion of nature, science, and humans, I knew it was meant for me. Deep tech may be invisible to the eye, but when you start to see its benefits, you can start to understand its value. You don’t see the chemical reactions, and you might not see the data calculations, but the magic happens behind the scenes, across interconnections of various technologies, that converge into something greater than the individual parts.
In order to help you see what you can’t see, to understand what deep tech is, and how you can benefit from it, let’s explore the five characteristics of deep technology.
- The product or solution is often invisible to the human eye
- The product or solution combines knowledge from multiple domains of science and technology like organic chemistry, synthetic biology, energy and chemistry, computational biology, and many more
- The product or solution is often embedded within another product or process
- The process of discovery is chaotic, out of control, contained within a sandbox or at a bench, and the journey begins when scaling to a repeatable manufacturing process
- Market size is not a risk because the product is addressing humans’ basic needs including energy, health, and communications, and has the possibility of changing the traditional way of addressing a market need
Deep tech at its core is to think differently
When I think of deep tech, I can’t help but think of the 1997 video of Steve Jobs explaining a new marketing campaign called “Think Different.” In this iconic talk, Jobs explained the rationale for relaunching an advertising campaign, going back to the purpose of Apple. The core of deep tech is really to think differently.
I find that deep tech comes to life when you can see it play out. So, let’s look at two real examples of deep tech companies that I have been involved with, and show you how various technologies, when combined, helped create new possibilities that could not have been achieved without deep tech. When discovering specific examples that showcase how deep technology is manifested, we can look at our own businesses and better recognize deep connections that we might not otherwise see.
Thinking differently and recognizing deep connections can become your secret sauce to scale new revenue through innovations.
Propel solutions from other sectors that provide new ways to connect
Infinia, a deep tech company where I worked, engineered an external combustion Stirling engine, initially deployed in space powering satellites for NASA. Radioisotopes like uranium were the external source of heat to power the Stirling engine. When I arrived, a technology transfer from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories had been obtained. A local team of physicists, engineers of all types: mechanical, electrical, aerospace, and automotive, had found a way to harness the heat of the sun instead of radioisotopes to concentrate heat and generate electricity.
When I discovered how nature and machines can affect real change in our lives, I knew I wanted to get involved. What I discovered was an opportunity to help change the way the world is electrified with solar energy.
The combination of manufacturing at scale a product sealed for life (aka maintenance free), filled with a noble gas that when pointed at glass mirrors to concentrate the heat of the sun to 700 degrees centigrade, had the promise to generate electricity at lower costs of energy eventually at grid parity (LCOE.) Deep tech at Infinia meant harnessing the sun and noble gasses, with engineering and manufacturing at scale to cut costs down with the potential to compete with other electricity-generating sources.
Your company at the surface level might be doing something that everyone else understands because it is how it has always been done. But learning from deep tech, and its advantages of tech cross-collaboration, you might start to see new intersections that can result in new innovations.
Combining technologies allows for deeper innovations
I never left the pharmaceutical space entirely, and as such, I had the opportunity to be part of the acquisition of a biotechnology company MedImmune by AstraZeneca, a unique acquisition by one of the large pharma companies of this little company out of Maryland.
In 2019 I was introduced to Dr. Christopher Locher, PhD, the CEO of an early-stage pre-clinical biotechnology company in the therapeutic and vaccine space. He had spent over 20 years in infectious diseases having worked in several countries, and at large pharmaceutical companies working on malaria, HIV, and other diseases.
When I met Christopher, he shared his vision with me:
“I am on a mission to harness biotechnology with efficient production costs and a safe means to develop a vaccine for multiple strains of pandemic and seasonal influenza,” and he founded Versatope Therapeutics, Inc.
Versatope Therapeutics is a pre-clinical deep-tech company that leverages outer membrane vesicles to generate a robust immune response that can attack and cure specific diseases. By using the body’s natural processes (or biology), leveraging cost-efficient biological evolution from nature like probiotic strains of E. coli, and a deep knowledge of microbiology, the company is on a path to manufacture at a scale for first in human trials in 2023.
He admires the CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel who said, “We’re a technology company that happens to do biology.” (source: Harvard Business N9-621-032)
The implications are far-reaching. Combining multiple strains on a single nano-size vesicle that protects against viruses, could mean that we may be at a pivotal moment in vaccine therapies: imagine one shot or pill rather than going in every year for an annual vaccine.
The beauty of their solution, and why it is considered deep tech, is that they take nature and then add in science. Through computational biology, they can use tools and informatics to model and synthesize it.
The application of deep tech has a lot to do with the customer journey. With deep tech, you can combine things, such as drugs, and technology, to come up with unique solutions.
Take a deep look at your company, at your technology. Have you asked yourself if there are ways to combine more elements of human tech, biotech, or computational technology to not only enhance your offering but to revolutionize what you are creating?
In a soon-to-be post-pandemic world, we are beneficiaries of the power of nature (like our own mRNA) and machines (like mass production and distribution channels). Deep tech used for good can affect real change in our lives and could be the boost your company needs to innovate. You too can have fun in the discovery of the next big breakthrough by looking deep at combining knowledge from multiple domains of science and technology like organic chemistry, synthetic biology, energy and chemistry, computational biology, and many more.
I am waiting for the next breakthrough that combines science, nature, machines, and humans. Are you? If you have an idea or working in the lab and would like to explore how to address the endless possibilities of deep tech, please book time on my calendar!
Brenda A. McCabe, Founder Next Act Advisors