Supporting deep tech founders the right way, pt 1

After nearly a decade of investing in deep tech, it comes as no surprise that most investors know very little about how to support deep tech companies

Many simply adopt the same mantra from their software investments and hope it sticks: give founders money and stay out of their way. Though, if we’re being honest, the true underlying assumption here is actually, “If they are smart enough, they’ll figure it out.” After all, these investors are investing in teams. 

But a “great team” should never be an excuse to leave founders unsupported. Being an entrepreneur is hard, but a great founder is typically a resourceful one that will lean on every (useful) shoulder they can find. 

By understanding deep tech founders, the space they work in, and their specific challenges, however, we can surely help them see the light of day. 

Understand that deep tech companies think tech first, market later

In a nutshell, deep tech is sci-fi technology that comes to life. 

These technologies are usually based on decades of research and are often patented. They typically start off as academic projects and develop into business ideas over time.

This means deep tech companies are always going to be “tech first” companies. They’re going to start off with something “cool” and “breakthrough,” before they search for the right problems to solve and market to tackle. 

Deep tech companies (almost) never begin with something thinking, “Hey, here’s a cool market problem. Let’s spend the next fifteen years figuring out how to solve it”—no matter how much someone may insist the opposite is true.

Prepare to accept the founder you have, not the founder you’re used to

Most deep tech founders (and their early teams) are highly technical people who are often PhDs who love solving technical problems. They are engineers by training; professional problem solvers.

That said, deep tech founders are typically not great storytellers. Their fact-driven nature means they often struggle to paint a rosy, marketable picture. And until they are extremely confident, they might offer very unattractive propositions, such as their product not working yet because they have yet to solve three remaining corner cases while the product already functions 99.8% of the time.

While it’s true that some deep tech teams have a combination of industry and technical experts, this is really not common at the early stage. This means deep tech founders who are just embarking on their journey often don’t sell well, let alone have a commercialization plan or in-depth market insights to share. 

And, on the off-chance that they don’t come from a technical background, they tend to promise lofty outcomes that their tech teams are unable to deliver. 

Weather deep tech’s specific set of challenges, reap its rewards.

Building deep tech companies look completely different from building a SaaS company. Hell, it looks different than building any other company. 

Between the extended amount of time takes to develop a product, intensive capital requirements, and extended pilots and roll-outs…well, it’s a long and winding road
Still, once a deep tech company is in, they are in for the long haul. Deep tech business lock-in makes all the difference (not to mention the technological defensibility a deep tech company offers), but until your founder gets there, it’s an uphill battle not meant for just any investor.

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