Miles Kirby’s venture capital firm Deeptech Labs is leading the charge into “deep tech” - a growing technology sector that turns scientific innovation into business opportunity.
Englishman Miles Kirby spent a big chunk of his career in the US at Qualcomm, the technology giant that is currently the world’s largest manufacturer of smartphone chips.
At the tech giant, Kirby was responsible for the company's European venture capital investments.
Fast-forward twenty years and now as chief executive of the Cambridge-based venture capital fund and accelerator Deeptech Labs, Kirby invests into his passion, deep tech.
Deep tech is technology based on scientific innovation and is a growing area of interest for investors. Examples of deep tech include artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology or quantum computing.
Kirby says: “What I've seen throughout my career, is a lot of deep tech startups raising a seed round of funding because their idea is really good but struggling to sell the product or find product/market fit by the time they reach the next round of funding.”
Deeptech Labs is backed by some of the UK’s leading technology organisations and investors including Arm, Martlet Capital, and the University of Cambridge.
In the last decade, the tech ecosystem in the UK has “really blossomed” according to Kirby. He has chosen the city of Cambridge as his firm’s base because he views it as one of Europe’s leading technology clusters.
Many of the deep tech unicorns - companies worth over £1bn - have come out of Cambridge including Darktrace, the AI cybersecurity company.
In November, Darktrace replaced the supermarket Morrisons on the FTSE 100, making it one of the top 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange.
In choosing the university city, Kirby hopes that Deeptech Labs will be the “catalyst for deep tech success”.
Startup selection process
The companies that Deeptech Labs selects for its programme are at a proof-of-concept stage, meaning they can demonstrate that their idea works without having built the product.
When selecting businesses Kirby and his team are always on the lookout for specific attributes. He says: “We look for really strong team dynamics, ideally founders that nicely complement each other. If everyone looks the same, with the same skill set, there's going to be big gaps in their knowledge.”
For a deep tech company to succeed, Kirby says: “It is really important to have a team member who is great on the technology side, another who specialises in getting the product to market, and one great entrepreneur or CEO to run the company.”
The accelerator programme
So far, the companies they have invested in have been focused on machine learning, AI, construction tech and climate tech.
In their upcoming cohort one of the companies specialises in volumetric video, meaning it turns real events like concerts or sports matches into virtual events in online spaces like the metaverse.
Another company will help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced in the manufacture of concrete, which is extremely carbon intensive.
Kirby believes it “takes a community to raise a deep tech startup” so Deeptech Labs runs its 13-week incubator programme with the aim of connecting startups with experts in their field.
The accelerator programme covers sales, marketing, product management and organisational structure through a series of high-level strategy meetings, expert panels, one-on-one sessions, networking, and forum days.
Kirby says the intensive course is personalised for each company so if a startup wants to learn about intellectual property, the Lab will run a session on just that.
He says: “What we really help them do is build the thought processes and mechanisms to grow the framework of their company into, hopefully, something great.”
The next step
The course culminates in a deep dive on fundraising in advance of a final pitch to investors. Last summer, 66 venture capital firms were present at the pitch day.
There’s still a whole raft of issues that Deeptech Labs wants to solve, technology that can help in the fight against climate change being a particularly hot topic at the moment.
Kirby says he invests with these real-world solutions in mind; his ultimate aim is that Deeptech Labs will be able to react to the demands of the day.
He says: “I love the opportunity that we've got to help society commercialise these new technologies for the greater good.”
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