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Davos 2024: A decisive moment for DCVC’s deep tech investment thesis

At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting last month in Davos, I saw strong indications of the VC industry’s secular rotation into deep tech investments
Exponential View Founder Azeem Azhar (left) and I took part in the “Hype Cycles and Start-ups” panel.

I returned from this year’s Davos with my head brimming with insights and a renewed sense of urgency around the role that deep tech can play in addressing society’s most intractable challenges. I also return proud to have seen DCVC portfolio companies Pivot Bio, Planet, Desktop Metal, Ginkgo Bio, Pano AI, and Rescale all in attendance. 

Early in the week, MIT aerospace engineer and MIT Media Lab Director Dava Newman and I presented on Earth Observation (EO) in the WEF’s Betazone, where she explored how her invaluable EO tool empowers societies to understand their environment, and I covered the pathway and imperative of commer­cial­izing EO platforms (more on the overall imperative of commer­cial­iza­tion here). The potential of EO data to revo­lu­tionize industries like agriculture, energy, and disaster response is undeniable, and I was glad to have the opportunity to show images from Planet and Capella Space, two DCVC portfolio companies that are leaders in this sector. Later that same day, I took part in an expert discussion that covered the recent evolution of EO data business models and identified what changes are needed to increase adoption of EO data.

Among the greatest challenges we face are those posed by a warming planet, and it was gratifying to be able to participate in a high-level roundtable discussion that reviewed the outcomes of the recent COP28 climate nego­ti­a­tions in Dubai and examined the crucial next steps the private sector can take to achieve climate goals. The discussion, co-hosted by Badr Jafar, COP28 Special Repre­sen­ta­tive for Business & Phil­an­thropy and CEO of Crescent Enterprises, and Brian Moynihan, Chair of the Sustainable Markets Initiative and Chair and CEO of Bank of America, emphasized the importance of the private sector’s role in driving success, celebrated the ongoing role that the private sector will play in the annual COP process, and the urgency of addressing climate challenges collab­o­ra­tively. (See my summary of my week at COP28 here.)

During the “Satellites as Storytellers” presentation, MIT Media Lab Director Dava Newman and I discussed the transformative impact of Earth-observation satellite data.

As might be expected following a year of constant buzz over generative AI, a frequent topic of conver­sa­tion at this year’s meeting was the hype surrounding current tech­no­log­ical advance­ments. My partic­i­pa­tion on the Hype Cycles and Startup panel (see photo above) allowed me to share DCVC’s perspective: I emphasized the need to embrace the potential of cutting-edge tech­nolo­gies while also rigorously analyzing the data surrounding any given company and its industry. I encouraged Davos attendees to read DCVC’s most recent Deep Tech Oppor­tu­ni­ties Report, in which we unpack our investment thesis across a variety of sectors — showcasing not only what we consider the most promising oppor­tu­ni­ties but also calling out several hype-fueled tech­nolo­gies that we believe are currently harder to scale than people think.

Our report highlights a cautious approach toward the hype in the AI sector, and during a separate panel discussion that focused specif­i­cally on AI from an investing perspective, I articulated where I think the next big AI break­throughs will occur. I underscored our emphasis on investing in AI-driven innovations that offer practical, real-world solutions, and that show potential for substantial impact and scalability. We see major oppor­tu­ni­ties for AI appli­ca­tions in areas such as TechBio, climate technology, and robotics.

Beyond what I learned at the panels and discussions, the most valuable takeaways from Davos came from the informal inter­ac­tions — late-night conver­sa­tions with fellow investors, entre­pre­neurs and poli­cy­makers, and impromptu brain­storming sessions over coffee— that bind this community together and give it shared purpose. Toward that end, I was glad to host DCVC’s seventh annual Deep Tech in Davos nightcap, which has become a fantastic way to gather our fellow travelers from across the world. My conver­sa­tions, and the week in general, reinforced my conviction that we are in the middle of a secular rotation into deep tech — applying the power of compute to solve real-world, trillion-dollar problems across industries.

Deep tech’s moment has arrived. From advancing healthcare and sustainable energy to harnessing AI for tangible benefits, its potential is immense. Deep tech has been DCVC’s domain since our founding in 2010, and we remain committed to shaping a future in which it brings greater resilience, abundance, and equi­tability to all.

Zachary Bogue is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of DCVC.

I joined Badr Jafar (center, black shirt), COP28 Special Representative for Business & Philanthropy & CEO of Crescent Enterprises, and Brian Moynihan (center, yellow tie), Chair of the Sustainable Markets Initiative and Chair and CEO of Bank of America, at their high-level roundtable, "A Drumbeat for Business & Philanthropy."

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