2021 and Deep Tech: Reasons for Optimism

By Matt Ocko and Zachary Bogue 01.06.21

On New Year’s Day, we spend time reflecting on the year that passed, taking stock of our actions and resolving to do better in the year ahead. 2020 was a difficult year for many reasons, and yet it was also one of great hope. A devastating pandemic inspired us to build new solutions faster than ever thought possible and encouraged new resolve to address the long-term challenges that still lie before us.

From the early days of DCVC a decade ago, we’ve believed that Deep Tech is the most cost effective and economically viable solution to tackling the fundamental challenges that matter to humanity.

In 2020 we began to realize Deep Tech’s transformational impact through the material response of companies across our portfolio to the COVID-19 pandemic. Newly public AbCellera identified the first FDA authorized monoclonal antibody treatment in just 30 days, helping deliver an effective treatment to the front lines of the pandemic within a year. Caption Health’s FDA authorized AI-guided ultrasound system helped stressed hospital staff deliver better and faster care to patients in critical need. Carbon Health created a robust COVID-19 response which combines online symptom assessment tools and comprehensive telemedicine services, helping deliver critical care to patients in its clinics and online. And Lucira Health was the first to offer an FDA authorized at-home COVID-19 test, a necessary tool to bring normalcy back to our lives.

Our belief in deep tech

As we begin this new year, we hold an even stronger conviction in our founding principle: to back entrepreneurs using Deep Tech to transform industries, solving trillion dollar problems profitably and in ways that multiply the benefits of capitalism for everyone. This goes beyond assisting in the critical undertaking of battling the pandemic. Companies across our portfolio are making progress against the challenges that lay ahead of us, whether that is taking meaningful steps toward curing diseases or reshaping entire industries for the benefit of the human workforce.

Over the past century, unprecedented economic growth has come with high social and environmental costs. The internet age brought an expectation that our economy could be restructured and reordered to fairly distribute information and capital. But despite huge wealth creation, many of our fundamental problems as humans, and the systems we depend on, have been ignored by investors in favor of simple problems that deliver fast and predictable returns on capital invested.

Deep tech is helping people live longer and healthier lives

In healthcare, Recursion Pharmaceuticals signed a new partnership with pharmaceutical giant Bayer to advance new therapies for fibrotic diseases while at the same time open-sourcing the first human cellular morphological dataset of SARS-CoV-2 to help advance research in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Freenome continued its promising progress turning a simple blood test into an early detection system for cancer; Orca Bio showed off promising clinical data in its quest to make bone marrow transplants obsolete; and Atomwise received yet another grant to develop new therapies for challenging diseases, this time targeting malaria and tuberculosis.

Advances in other sectors

Meanwhile as Capella Space, Rocket Lab and Planet continued to tame outer space to provide us with more insight into the minutiae of Earth’s surface, Zymergen and MycoWorks showed that partnering with nature can produce new materials that aren’t just better for the environment, they result in better, more durable products. Pivot Bio, named one of 2020’s best inventions by TIME, is on the cusp of breaking agriculture’s addiction to expensive synthetic fertilizers that have barely changed since their invention more than 100 years ago. At the same time, Gro Intelligence is using Deep Tech to bring a new level of insight into the food system, helping farmers and businesses make more informed decisions about our food supply even as climate change brings more unpredictability. Agility Robotics continued working on unshackling humans from monotonous and dangerous work more suited for robots, and Evolv Technology brought its touchless security screening to more companies including Six Flags and Hersheypark to ensure that when this pandemic is behind us, we’re able to enjoy ourselves safely. And Oklo continued to push forward with its advanced nuclear reactors which can provide cleaner - and dramatically safer - energy for our future.

Innovation capital is a critical catalyst for entrepreneurs building the much needed solutions to the biggest challenges of our time. Effective solutions can be built in the existing market framework and ultimately create more equitable outcomes for the population. We’re so excited for the year ahead as the transformational companies across our portfolio and beyond prove that large scale positive societal impact and healthy investment returns are not mutually exclusive.

Exits and Public Listings

AbCellera (NASDAQ: ABCL), which researches and develops human antibodies to address pandemics and common diseases, including bamlanivimab (LY-CoV555) 700 mg, a human antibody developed through AbCellera’s collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company for the treatment of COVID-19, hit the public markets on December 15. DCVC Bio was an early supporter, leading the company’s Series A and co-leading its Series B financing.

Element AI, a pioneering AI company, was purchased by ServiceNow to power the company’s AI Innovation Hub, which is designed to accelerate customer-focused AI innovation in the ServiceNow platform.

Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM), a leader in mass production and turnkey additive manufacturing solutions, became the world’s only publicly traded pure-play additive manufacturing 2.0 company.

More Than $2B in Deep Tech Funding

DCVC portfolio companies secured more than $2B in funding in 2020 to continue developing Deep Tech solutions and bring them to market. These transformational companies are discovering new treatments for diseases, transforming industries and helping address the impact of climate change on our planet. Notable funding rounds include:

Real-World Solutions, Powered By Deep Tech

Deep Tech’s promise is not just in the future. It is powering solutions that have an impact in the near-term. Throughout 2020, DCVC portfolio companies had unprecedented success working with regulatory bodies to deliver safe, effective treatments for diseases, easy-to-use medical diagnostic tools and greener energy sources. These companies have secured three FDA authorizations (AbCellera, Caption Health, Lucira Health) and secured the first combined license application acceptance from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an advanced fission technology (Oklo).