Here at TechSPARK, we’re dedicating April to all things deep tech! Coming up for you we have features on deep tech companies to know about, advice on raising investment for a deep tech business and an array of company profiles.

But first of all, we thought we’d offer up our definition of what exactly a deep tech company is.

To get to the essence of the term’s meaning, it’s easiest to go back to when it was first coined by Swati Chaturvedi, CEO of Propel(x), in 2014. She simply defines deep technology startups as “companies founded on a scientific discovery or true technological innovation.”

This intentionally vague definition just scratches the surface of what it means to be a deep tech company, and the technicalities beyond the basics have been debated.

Joshua E. Siege and Sriram Krishnan built on Swati’s foundation and ultimately came up with this definition: “A ‘Deep’ Technology was impossible yesterday, is barely feasible today, and will quickly become so pervasive and impactful that it is difficult to remember life without. Deep Tech solutions are reimaginations of fundamental capabilities that are faithful to real and significant problems or opportunities, rather than to one discipline.”

Joshua and Sriram predict a linear lifecycle for deep tech companies. Eventually, they will diffuse into high-tech, then simply tech and finally become a basic need. Many pieces of tech have already followed this pattern. The mundane pieces of tech that comprise our household goods are now viewed as essentials, rather than exciting cutting-edge technology.

Joshua and Sriram also emphasise that “Deep Tech’s fundamental capabilities comprise sensing, connectivity, computation, inference, actuation, and control.”

These traits blend into an array of tech sub-sectors, including AI, Quantum Technologies, Robotics and Biotech – all of which can be considered disruptive technologies based on scientific discoveries and STEM subjects.

Essentially, regular tech companies tend to be built on a business model of innovation and improving the efficiency of existing tech, whereas deep tech usually emerges from scientific or engineering discoveries with a focus on solving the big issues we see across the globe.

Deep tech in the South West

To break things down, here are some examples of deep tech businesses in the region:

AI: Very notably, Graphcore has raised £162m in equity investment in January 2021 for their AI infrastructure tools, to top up the £116m they received in 2020.

Quantum: The University of Bristol is a centre of excellence in Quantum Technologies. Since 2016, 31 new companies have been created and over £60 million has been dedicated to developing the industry in the region. 

Biotech: In 2018 University of Bristol spinout Ziylo was acquired for around £630m, and it’s founder Harry Destecroix has since set up the Science Creates VC fund. 

Robotics: The Bristol Robotics Lab at UWE has seen several extremely successful spinouts including Open Bionics which has raised £4.8m to date.

Funding for deep tech can be notoriously challenging because of its complex nature. Founders can struggle to communicate a real understanding of their startup, which can leave investors feeling unsure about its true potential.

Connecting the founder with an investor who truly appreciates and is knowledgable about the science beneath the idea is rare, albeit not impossible – if you’re a deep tech founder struggling with investment stay tuned for a special feature on our best advice. And also check out the Investment Activator Programme to see if they can offer a helping hand.

Luckily, there are several incubators and accelerators in the region with a focus on Deep Tech, including Science Creates, FutureSpace, SETsquared Bristol, the Bristol Robotics Lab, and the National Composites Centre, so there’s plenty of support for those startups to grow.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.