Cambridge Independent 17 Jun 2021
By Mike Scialom
A new accelerator, Deeptech Labs, has invested £350,000 into five post-seed deeptech companies to bridge the gap between a seed finance round and a Series A round.
The VC fund, accelerator and catalyst for deeptech success has been developed by Arm, Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), Ewan Kirk (CEO and co-founder of Cantab Capital Partners), Martlet Capital and the University of Cambridge, each of which has invested in the Deeptech Labs project.
“I reached out to Adam Bastin [VP of corporate development] at Arm, who I’ve co-invested with in a number of projects,” says Andrew Williamson, managing partner at CIC, “Andy Neely from the University of Cambridge, who sits on the CIC board, Martlet, who we know well and Ewan Kirk to bring it all together.
“The group of us set up Deeptech Labs and hired Miles Kirby as CEO last year. This founding group brings a synergistic mix of expertise in research, development, commercialisation, company building and finance of hardware and software across a range of deep tech sectors, such as AI, IoT, energy, and transportation.
“We wanted to make available all the capabilities of the deeptech cluster to broader opportunities.
Cambridge is one of the best places in the world to build a deeptech business, with access to best-in-class talents, exceptional intellectual property, and experienced entrepreneurs and investors. Deeptech Labs enables a new generation of entrepreneurs to access this ecosystem.
The five companies in the first cohort for the 13-week programme are due to complete the inaugural programme on Friday (June 18).
They include Cambridge-based BKwai, which uses machine learning and prediction insights for a more resilient built environment. The others are Autofill (based in the Netherlands), Mindtech (King’s Langley), Contilio, and Circuit Mind (both London-based). All focus on AI and data-generated analytics and solutions.
The five selected companies were shortlisted from 200 interested parties sourced through Deeptech Labs’ network, which was blueprinted by Miles Kirby, CEO and Stewart McTavish, chief platform officer.
Stewart joined Deeptech late last year after 11 years as director of ideaSpace in the city. Miles, a previous managing director of Qualcomm Ventures, took on the role after leaving AV8 Ventures, where he had been managing director.
“CIC played a big part in this,” says Miles. “They identified the gap from seed to Series A.
“CIC invests in Series A of course, they understand that it’s challenging to go from developing technology to building a business and that’s where a lot of companies fail, so the investors got together and decided they wanted to set up an accelerator, and they started talking to me just as I was finishing my AV8 role – and the thesis is that this community really wants to help and we can catalyse this.
“I spent 20 years in California with a start-up company acquired by Qualcomm, and there’s a really good technology community there, and we decided to accelerate the community in Europe to help all start-ups here, which is a genuine desire to build a deep tech ecosystem.
“We really want to be a catalyst for building the next deeptech company.”
At Arm, Adam Bastin said: “From Arm’s earliest days in a barn just outside the city, to its position as a global technology leader headquartered here today, Cambridge has remained a critical hub of talent, creativity and innovation.
“In co-founding Deeptech Labs, we’re pleased to support the next generation of game-changing technology companies by helping them to access the world-class Cambridge technology ecosystem.”
The startups receive financing and a three-month development programme, with access to a unique community: more than 50 deep technology leaders from Cambridge and around the world act as advisors and mentors. These have so far included the founders or chief executives of Arm, Analysis, CSR, Imagination Technologies, Active Hotels, Arieso, Blinkx, Cloudamize, Focal Point, Riverlane, Ubisense and many more.
Deeptech Labs has been fairly stealthy until now, says Miles.
He told the Cambridge Independent: “It was in November that we started setting up Deeptech Labs but I didn’t want to talk about what we were doing until we were properly set up, and now we have the first cohort and their Demo Day is later this week.”
More than 50 people are expected at the virtual Demo Day, including venture capitalists and other investors. The day is a culmination of the programme’s emphasis on networking and mentoring.
“Some companies are raising capital now, some later this year, some next year,” says Miles. “Each company has met more than 130 people during the 13-week programme – the one-to-ones have been especially well received. It all helps turbo-charge their network.”
The initial £350k invested in each of the five companies also embeds Deeptech Labs into the heart of the company’s future strategy.
“We invest in them and become part-owners, the £350k is issued as a convertible loans note, so when shares are sold our money converts into equity,” explains Miles. “Where other accelerators are for earlier-stage companies, ours are already formed and have a CEO, a CTO, with five to 30 people in the organisation, plus proof of concept and even early sales, and we accelerate them from there. They may have raised capital from other sources too. It all helps extend their cash runway before they go out and raise their next round of finance.”
Zara Riahi, CEO and co-founder of Contilio, said: “We are building the world’s first 3D AI analytics platform used by global construction companies and asset owners. To accelerate the next phase of our growth, we were looking for a scaling partner that understood deeptech and had access to the best advisers, deeptech investors, and global operators. The people who’ve been in the trenches.
“We are delighted to have found an amazing one in Deeptech Labs.”
The second cohort starts in September.