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June 2021 – What kind of leaders do Deep Tech companies need?

Deep Tech Leadership

What kind of leaders do Deep Tech companies need?

This assumes, of course, that Deep Tech companies need a unique type of leader.

Do they? Aren’t Deep Tech companies like other types of tech companies?

All tech companies hope to deliver value for themselves and their customers by designing and delivering technical solutions for market problems.  But Deep Tech companies do this at an extreme level.

With Deep Tech companies, the problems being solved are bigger.  The solutions being developed are more complex, and carry with them greater technical and engineering risk.  Their solutions take way longer to get to market – sometimes decades – and the markets being targeted are generally more conservative, often regulated and generally dominated by large incumbents.  Capital requirements are greater too, particularly in the early days.

Deep Tech companies are not, therefore, like most technology businesses.  And to my mind, they need very different types of leaders.

But what is the right leadership profile?

Of course, I appreciate this may change depending on the industry.  ‘Deep Tech’ is not a sector, but more an approach to business building, one particularly well-suited for innovation within the Life Sciences, Industrial and advanced Computing domains.  There will naturally be distinctions more relevel for one industry vs another.

But there are clear similarities too.  Regardless of sector, when asked to create the ideal leadership profile, we observe that many Deep Tech founders, investors, board directors and management teams refer to other tech domains for inspiration.  References from fast-moving start-ups, large corporates, even SMEs appear – and often in the same profile.

In some ways, this is not surprising.  Without question, there are leadership lessons from different parts of the tech community to apply to Deep Tech.  But understanding which lessons to apply (and which ones to ignore) is the key.  If we wish to be more successful in scaling Deep Tech companies, I believe there needs to be a clearer understanding of what ‘good’ Deep Tech leadership really looks like.

So my team and I at Deep Tech Leaders are starting a discussion, the purpose of which is to examine the type of leadership required to not just build Deep Tech companies, but to actually deliver Deep Tech innovations from the lab to the market, so that their impact and value can be fully realised.

There are many ways we could approach this.  To start, however, we have decided address the following questions:

  • What are the different steps involved in building a Deep Tech company, and how does each step impact the leadership requirements of the organisation?  In other words, what are the skills, experience, qualities and behaviours required at each step of the business building process to have a high chance of passing the stage and moving on to the next stage?
  • What are the lessons that Deep Tech leadership teams can apply from other tech ecosystems?  Without question, there are things that fast-moving start-ups and slow-moving incumbents can teach Deep Tech companies.  But what are those things? And what things should are to be avoided?
  • Finally, who are the outstanding Deep Tech leaders and leadership teams that can act as common reference points for the Deep Tech community?  What is it about their skills, experience, qualities and behaviours that has made them, or is making them stand out?  What can other Deep Tech leadership teams learn from them?

This is a big topic – too big for just a couple of posts.  Therefore, we are asking for help – from you and anyone else invested in seeing Deep Tech companies thrive.  We will be adding content on a weekly basis and I encourage you to leave comments below or drop me a line at chris@deeptechleaders.com.  The output and learning will be much richer for it.

Deep Tech innovation is vitally important if we want to realise a cleaner, healthier, more intelligent world.  But for this to have any kind of chance, the right leadership needs to be in place, guiding these companies from the lab to the market.

Let’s work together to figure this out.