Celebrating its 12th Demo Day yesterday, Entrepreneur First (EF) presented 27 startups on stage at London’s Kings Place, and deep tech was a key theme for the talent investor once again.
The demo day included pitches from startups based in London, Paris and Berlin, with the primary focus areas being AI, machine learning, biotech and, increasingly, sustainability.
Founded by Matthew Clifford and Alice Bentick in 2011, EF has boasted a unique model of talent sourcing, which differs from traditional startup incubators and accelerators. Rather than seeking already formed startups in early-stage, EF sources exceptional individuals with the potential to start a business, putting them into cohorts and helping them to find a partner, develop an idea and create the startup from scratch.
It has since expanded globally across Europe and Asia, with talent programmes spanning to Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangalore.
“Our core principle is not that we invest in tech, but that we invest in people," Clifford told Techworld during the London demo day. "So we will fund whatever the most ambitious people want to build and right now we think that is going to be tech. We think that the global scalability of tech makes it very attractive to ambitious people, but we’re really comfortable with the idea that’s going to change.”
Clifford is confident that EF will continue to lead the way with startup trends, by not going for what’s big in the market but what founders are passionate about.
“We try to go the other way around. I think the reason we ended up investing in machine learning before almost anyone else in the UK was not because we saw that as a macro trend, but because we went out to look for talent and we’d go to computer science departments at universities and ask what the smartest people on campus are interested in. Machine learning is what they said.
“So we don’t really want to follow top down trends,” Clifford adds. “I think it’s very easy if you do that to fight the last battle and miss the way. We’re much more interested in what these exceptional people are interested in and that’s the trend we’d like to follow.”
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The rise of deep tech
Over the years, the tech sector has become the biggest market for ambitious startup founders, and the investment has duly followed.
Technology is always changing though and where EF was seeing mobile and AI as key themes over the years, it has now shifted to what they brand as 'deep tech'.
For example: “We’ve seen a big shift towards biotech," Bentick told Techworld earlier this year. "Now because we do active sourcing we do dictate to some extent who applies to EF, but the cost of producing a biotech company has fallen significantly. It now looks like you can do AI-style investment into biotech. We’ve got a bunch of interesting companies coming through doing clean meat, membranes, pretty much everything that you can imagine. It is definitely cutting edge.”
According to the cofounders, deep tech currently provides plenty of opportunities for investors and is a popular theme amongst big name investors in Silicon Valley.
“I think tech has a few characteristics that make it really ideal for what we do," Clifford said. "One is that there is venture capital available for those companies to grow, and I think that’s because you get this phenomenal way that you can build the tech once, but it can scale globally.
The unique startups presenting at the demo day this week showed this off. They ranged from the application of AI to make the internet safer, to improving the accuracy of IVF treatments and developing sustainable fabrics using CO2.
Imvitro, a Paris-based startup uses AI-based algorithms to increase the effectiveness of IVF treatments. Whilst, Fairbrics promises to use technology to convert harmful CO2 emissions into sustainable fabrics.
From the UK alone, the demo day had Sasha Haco, the founder of Unitary, pitch her idea of how to make the web safer. It uses a graph-based technology to identify video content that could be inappropriate or harmful.
Another example is Novoic, which uses proprietary technology to detect early signs of brain disease from speech data alone. In a similar vein is Phenoteq, which developed a machine learning tool to help clinicians detect prostate cancer sooner.
EF also announced plans to further expand with a new site, which will launch in Toronto in 2020. This will bring its international locations to seven, and its first in North America.