What do we mean when we talk about deep tech?

A conversation with Grove Ventures' managing partner (and the inventor of the USB flash drive) Dov Moran

Deep tech — the generic term for technologies not focused on end-user services that includes artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced material science, photonics and electronics, biotech and quantum computing — has been an identified category for investment as long as the tech industry itself.

But as with many other sectors, it has found itself in and out of favor depending on the wider climate. In the years when mainstream tech adoption started to take off, under-the-radar deep tech became even more obscure as big-ticket apps and other services and gadgets popular with consumers received all the limelight.

Now, with “winners” in that bigger category climbing to new heights — it’s hard to imagine anyone replacing Facebook, Google, Apple or Amazon anytime soon, even as other apps grow in niche popularity — the enthusiasm of taking bets on consumer startups has leveled off. Coupled with that, investors are again looking at startups focused on a more diverse set of technologies that solve hard problems, which might prove to be the levers of instrumental change.

Those trends have contributed to a rising interest in deep tech, with investments in the wider category growing 20% annually between 2015 and 2018, culminating in nearly $18 billion of investment, according to a 2019 report from Boston Consulting Group.

One measure of the enthusiasm in the space is the activity of VCs who focus on deep tech. Last month, Tel Aviv-based Grove Ventures, which funds companies spanning Europe and beyond, closed a $125 million fund to back deep-tech startups and is already raising another fund of the same amount. Firms that Grove has backed include fabless IoT semiconductor startup Wiliot, API marketplace RapidAPI, autonomous vehicle startup TriEye, next-generation manufacturing startup 3DSignals and a number of startups still in stealth.