Like nearly every other sector, deep tech faced significant headwinds in 2022. As interest rates skyrocketed, deep tech deals, which inherently take more capital than other kinds of software businesses, became less attractive to many VCs and their LPs than lower-risk investments.
For instance, even though quantum computing suddenly became popular in the public markets as D-Wave, Rigetti and IonQ listed in the last year, private investment declined significantly — the sector received just over $600 million in venture capital in 2022, down from $800 million in 2021, according to Crunchbase.
Seasoned investors and operators in different segments of deep tech have been adapting to these changes in real time as the cheap money days dwindle in the rearview. For instance, in this environment, space tech startups would never have been able to raise the kind of money they did in 2021 to be able to deploy the technologies they’re working on today. As Delian Asparouhov, a principal at Founders Fund and the founder of Varda Space Industries, shared last month, it would be impossible to raise the $42 million his startup did in 2021 for its space factory “idea” in today’s market climate.
While some investors will continue to sit on the sidelines as we kick off 2023, it’s important to note that many funds are still sitting on amounts of dry powder like they’ve never had before. That doesn’t mean they or their LPs will be in a rush to deploy that capital, but money will be available to startups that can demonstrate current demand and are realistic about their valuations. As it becomes increasingly difficult to realize big exits in the years ahead, the technologies within deep tech that are transforming entire industries offer some of the only paths to “10x exits.”
These are positive signs for deep tech founders preparing to raise money this year. Another positive note is that some of the logic driving VCs to stay away from deep tech startups in down markets may be unfounded. Our team recently analyzed recent deep tech unicorns to understand how much money it took for them to get to the $1 billion mark. The results reinforced what we knew from experience: Deep tech startups’ capital and time requirements are on par with companies in other sectors. In fact, the median deep tech startup took $115 million and 5.2 years to become a unicorn.
While the space economy will continue to provide numerous opportunities to invest in atoms, there will also be an opportunity to invest in the bits moving atoms across our skies.
With that as a backdrop, let’s look at a few areas where deep tech will find interest from investors in 2023.
While Delian noted correctly that funding for long-term “moon shots” will be tough to find in the current market, I still believe investors will look for startups that are closer to commercialization in the sector. To date, 99% of the total investment in the space tech market has gone to the satellite and launch industries. Now is the time to focus on moving objects around in space rather than just getting them there.
For instance, investors are increasingly interested in solutions that tackle astrodynamics or propulsion to guide the motion of satellites and other spacecraft — for example, AI startups working on ways to simulate scenarios and generate maneuver plans for operators so they can avoid space collisions. Investors are also interested in future machine learning and neural networks use cases for astrodynamics, such as orbit predictions and spacecraft flight modeling.
Space missions also call for hardened software and hardware. As we look toward edge solutions for space-bound vehicles and objects, startups that can create radiation-safe applications will be in demand. So while the space economy will continue to provide numerous opportunities to invest in atoms, there will also be an opportunity to invest in the bits moving atoms across our skies.
Software alone will never solve the multitude of issues contributing to our climate crisis. Hardware solutions and engineering-led innovations in deep tech are needed to solve our most significant climate challenges.