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Terry Boyd
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Global ecosystems collide at Deep Tech Connect: A Deep Tech Innovation Forum

This was NOT just another tech event. 

Global ecosystems collided at Deep Tech Connect: A Deep Tech Innovation Forum on June 28th, with HighTechXL and Extreme Tech Challenge hosting a special full-day event in Europe’s most important tech center.

In collaboration with Palo Alto-based startup pitch competition organization Extreme Tech Challenge, Deep Tech Connect was an innovation festival with superstars and future stars, startups and VCs … oh, and the CEO of the most valuable tech company in Europe.

Deep Tech Connect featured keynotes, panels, breakouts, networking, exciting announcements and, of course, pitches at a sold-out High Tech Campus Eindhoven Conference Center.

It was the first collaboration between deep-tech venture builder HighTechXL and impact organization XTC, but not the last, with HTXL CEO John Bell and XTC’s Executive Managing Director Victoria Slivkoff opening the event, then promising to do it again next year during closing remarks.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In a rare public appearance, ASML CEO Peter Wennink told the story of how a neglected corner of the Philips semiconductor R&D effort became the only company in the world making the photolithography machines crucial to making the most advanced computer chips.

The roots of ASML, the ultimate deep-tech company, were “a direct result of poverty and neglect,” Wennink told the audience in his keynote. Created in 1984 in the middle of a major Philips reorganization, the photolithography project languished “somewhere in the dungeons of the conglomerate. Nobody paid any attention to us.”

Philips nearly pulled the plug on ASML, yet two years later the company went public “and now 40 years later, we are indeed the most valuable tech company in Europe. What does that teach you?” Wennink said.

Success is “not about poverty and neglect, it’s about perseverance … and a good deal of luck.”

If you’re confident you can do something, go for it. But it’s important to plug into the institutional knowledge of a big company as well as the overall ecosystem. “When you have an idea, you need to have access to knowledge,” Wennink said, circling back to the theme of the day: connecting.

He concluded by describing the Eindhoven ecosystems as “a rough diamond. It’s up to us to polish it.”

Wennink set the tone of “the impossible is possible” day as the 300 attendees from the Netherlands, The Valley, London, Finland, Germany and France moved through panels, talks and multiple deep dives into what comes next.

Nicolas Autret, partner at Walden Catalyst Ventures, presented insights and key takeaways  from The European Deep Tech Report, developed in collaboration with Dealroom and Lakestar. A deeper dive on the report followed with a panel, which included Constantijn Van Oranje-Nassau (Envoy, Techleap), Jean-Francois Bobier (Partner, Boston Consulting Group) and Teska van Vuren (Partner, DeepTechXL). John Bell moderated the panel.

The panel discussed deep tech ventures working early with corporates, sometimes as their first customers. They talked about the lack of funds and risk averse Dutch investors … and a lot more. They literally could have talked all day about this subject.

Everyone agreed it’s all about connecting, which is the real reason we organized Deep Tech Connect with Extreme Tech Challenge.

In the end, Constantijn said it best:

“Don’t get too stuck in the region where you are geographically. The world is a big place. Follow the opportunity. The support system will help you here with the tools you need. But talk to successful founders, successful advisors. And set your own boundaries further. Dream big. If you dream small, you won’t go very far.”

Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence and the ramifications of sentient machines figured into nearly every panel and discussion, and two AI experts were on hand.

In his workshop on AI and Big Data, Autret dissected from the VC point of view the winners in the AI revolution. The big winner so far, Autret said, is NVIDIA, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based maker of advanced chips, CPUs and GPUs … the computing power needed to handle the massive amount of data AI requires.

Otherwise, Autret added, he thinks it’s too early to predict who the winners will be at the application level, while there is an ongoing debate between open source and proprietary at the model level. When discussing the opportunity to create AI global leaders out of Europe, he and others in the SRO AI breakout discussed the massive fundraising of French startup Mistral AI, founded by former Google and Meta AI researchers, which raised 104 million euros after only four weeks of existence.

Victoria Slivkoff moderated the final panel of the event. Riemer Smink, managing partner of VC joked that AI “provides a confident answer that’s only right half the time,” referring to the tendency of Google Bard’s tendency to “hallucinate,” or give convincing wrong answers.

Jooske de Groot, Microsoft’s Netherlands director of small and medium business, joined Smink and Marcel van der Heijden, Fortino Capital, on the panel.

De Groot said her concern is, “how do we deal with the crazy demand with existing infrastructure?” She and Smink agreed the most appealing potential opportunity for investors now is investing in the “picks and shovels,” the hardware that enables AI.

When assessing investment opportunities, “focusing on the here and now makes no sense,” she said. “You have to zoom out and ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Along with all other breakouts and panels, there were, of course, pitches.

Deep Tech Connect was about connecting ventures with deep tech investors and others in the ecosystem to catapult startups to market so they can begin to solve those societal challenges on which deep tech is focused.

HighTechXL startups and alumni teams presenting included:

Incooling: Helena Samodurova

Alphabeats: CEO Han Dirkx

Spectrik: Rick Jongen

Luper Technologies: Maarten Kieft

Senergetics: CEO Frank Jacobs

Helena didn’t pitch so much as talk about Incooling’s journey, starting as the first deep tech cohort to come out of HighTechXL. Incooling went on to win the XTC regional pitch competition finals in Eindhoven and pitched in the global finals in Silicon Valley.

Along the way, Incooling and ASML were awarded the first CoSTA award for the most successful and impactful innovative collaboration between a corporate and a startup. Helena wrapped up her address by announcing Incooling’s first commercial customer is none other than ASML.

And to add a bit more spice to the morning Startup Showcase, Guus Frericks, DeepTechXL’s managing director and co-founder of HighTechXL, brought closing documents to the stage and signed off on a 750,000 euro investment in Senergetics. Frericks also pledged a follow-on investment of 2.5 million euros as long as Senergetics passes all the required milestones. THAT was exciting!

Pitching in the afternoon Startup Showcase were startups from High Tech Campus-based venture builder LUMO Labs and Extreme Tech Challenge alumni.

They included:

Finnadvance: Prateek Singh

Maaind: Dzera Kaytati Bart Geerts

Vertoro: Michael Boot

Gazelle Wind Power: Jon Salazar

Virtuleap: Amir Bozorgzadeh, who pitched virtually

And because the focus was on connecting, John Bell and Marisa Schneider, UnternehmerTUM, introduced attendees to Rise Europe, an “ecosystem of ecosystems.” HighTechXL and UnternehmerTUM are founding members of the grassroots organization comprised of 14 countries and 20 startup centers dedicated to uniting innovation efforts across Europe.

What this means for the deep tech ecosystem is Rise Europe members can collaborate on technology transfer, introduce deep tech startups to investors, make commercial partner connections … you name it. Whatever it takes to ensure Europe’s long-term competitiveness by using valuable connections.

Deep Tech Connect was a day filled with new connections and inspiring conversations. In a short interview after the event, Victoria and John talked about the activities of the day.

“It was such a wonderful day of meaningful connections and wonderful engagements,” said Victoria. “We brought in some fabulous speakers and guests who are all working and investing in a deep tech space. So, it’s really energizing. What a great place to be doing this, in Eindhoven, the center of gravity for deep tech. Inspiring conversations and deep connections.”

John Bell echoed her sentiment, adding some initial feedback from HighTechXL startups. “We did this in just six weeks. And look around. What happened? We had a lot of startups telling their stories. Some of the teams are saying, “Now I have three investors knocking on my door, I have a new CTO perhaps coming to me … hey, what more do you want?”

Deep Tech Connect will definitely return next year, and we suspect it will be bigger and better than 2023. Stay tuned.