What does the investing in deep tech look like for Octopus Ventures?

Octopus Ventures’ internal structure is crafted to help pioneering entrepreneurs change the world. The team’s expertise is focused through three pods: Future of Health, Future of Money and Deep Tech. Here, Simon King reveals the inner workings of the Deep Tech pod.

Our purpose in the Deep Tech pod is to find the tools and technologies that will power the next industrial revolution. For us this means human-computer interaction, edge computing, robotics and synthetic biology.

Jumping back in time, it’s clear where the previous step-change revolutions happened – as well as their unexpected consequences. Before Johannes Gutenberg got his printing press going in 1440, no-one could have imagined the mass distribution of knowledge and ideas the device would lead to – let alone the concept of copyright or intellectual property. Since then the inventions of plastics, radio transmission, jet propulsion and silicon chips have each had repercussive outcomes that previous generations could never have contemplated. No Leonardo sketch of an Amazon Echo device has, so far, been discovered.

So the Deep Tech pod is about connecting to the people from whom the next really significant innovations are coming from.

How do we do it? Our team already contains significant expertise, bringing together backgrounds – and three PhDs – in computer science engineering, materials, organic electronics, photochemistry and synthetic biology. Regular deep-dives into our focus areas deepen our understanding further. Our collective connections have created a network that we continue to build out to benefit the entrepreneurs we back.

We’re fortunate at Octopus to have already backed some of the pioneers creating the next industrial revolution. Dogtooth, for example, is leading the way in Agritech robotics. Its strawberry-harvesting robots include machine vision and AI that will play a major part in the transformation of the way we grow and process food. Waveoptics is bringing Augmented Reality to real-world use in industry, enterprise and consumer markets and Amplience is simplifying content management, allowing bricks and mortar retailers to operate beautifully online. Back in 2012, our investment in Evi backed the technology that later became the basis for Amazon’s Alexa. Natural language semantic search engine technology had yet to be applied at the time, but this was the kind of technology we knew would change the world. Most companies we look at are IP rich with a significant amount of research and development behind them, so they’re often applying not just new technologies, but new business models to the market. By nature, time scales are longer, so our vision and relationships need to be too.

Thanks to relentless improvements in processing and compute power, the digital and physical worlds are merging together. As we add intelligence to machines they are becoming ever more useful to us. At the same time, we ourselves are becoming more comfortable with computing as a part of our lives and the interactions are becoming more intimate with each new development. We have moved from mainframe to desktop to laptop, to smartphones to watches to AR glasses: what happens next is where our interest lies. Pioneers focused on areas such as abstraction from code, edge computing and next generation data storage and processing will be at the forefront of this next step-change.

We also see the digital revolution empowering pioneers to exploit synthetic biology opportunities, not only in creating new materials but in altering the genomes of plants, animals and humans with technologies such as Crispr-Cas9.  

We aim to create an open-minded, deeply connected readiness, alert for the next generation of pioneering entrepreneurs.


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