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More deep tech startups needed

From left, My Klint (KTH Student Inc.), Sean Eyler (Biome), Andy Johnston (Moor Capital) and Jennifer Broutin Farah (Sproutsio)

Is startup entrepreneurship in danger of losing technology depth? Maybe not, but some of the experts here at the World Founder Forum agree that there is a trending lack of research-connected business ideas. Or at least, they’re not getting the attention that the more low-tech ideas do.

“More people are chasing the fast track to creating a huge startup, so they are more focused on solutions similar to, for example, Snapchat and WhatsApp, and not that focused on research,” says My Klint, manager of KTH Student Inc., an incubator for student startups at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. “There are many cool startups who have made it very fast, and that’s become the role model.”

Andy Johnston, a partner at Moor Capital and an expert panelist at the Forum, agrees. “Somehow people got the idea that engineering has become easier, because we have cloud and all of these really powerful midware stacks and so on,” he says. “Maybe the typical startup today has more people who are business-savvy, and more funding-savvy, and more product-centric, and less like engineers than they had before.”

“There’s a lot of deep tech here in Sweden but a lot of the ideas we see as VCs are more product-focused, more scaled-business-model focused,” Johnston says. “And I think that’s a pity. So, we’re actively looking for more of the deep tech companies.”

What could turn the trend around would be more role models like KTH’s Volumental, which was one of the Class of 2015 companies that awarded 100,000 USD in startup funds. One of that company’s is a robotics researcher who has worked in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Computer Vision Group.

Jennifer Broutin Farah of Sproutsio, an MIT startup, says that the tide appears to be shifting toward more engineering-based business ideas. “There is a shift toward, ‘Maybe you have the app but you also need a hardware component’. I think a lot of interesting things are starting to come out of universities.”

But Klint reminds us that all engineering and no business background makes for an unbalanced company, nevertheless. “At KTH Innovation we have started to recruit external and experienced entrepreneurs to add them to our deep tech teams, to make sure we commercialize the solutions we have here.”

David Callahan

David Callahan is editor for international news and media at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.