Three critical skills leaders set to ride the next wave of innovation
Houses built with 3D printing.
Robots to aid in surgery.
It is not a fantastic future.
These are all existing examples of how “deep tech” – technological solutions based on significant scientific or technical innovation – is being used to solve humanity’s greatest problems.
In its survey of 200 decision makers in large companies, quantum computing company Seeqc found that 57% of them are actively studying cutting-edge technologies to solve an existing or impending problem.
And although they are largely motivated by competitive pressure and the promise of a high return on investment, most (82%) are afraid to invest and implement cutting-edge technology solutions.
This is understandable.
Harnessing the power of deep technology is a tall order. It requires leaders to orchestrate seismic and complex changes in the way they do business. The conventional “red ocean” approach to competition – protecting your strategy, innovating internally and minimizing risk – does not apply.
Deep technology requires a different approach, explains Arnaud de la Tour, co-founder and president of Hello Tomorrow, which works with global companies, start-ups and other ecosystem players to accelerate the transfer of deep technologies. .
I spoke with him to find out more:
Arnaud: Typically, companies in the primary and secondary sectors – those farther away from the consumer – have not been very interested in the technology. But that is changing as they see the impact on their business model of technologies that are changing the physical world.
Mining companies, for example, have traditionally relied on utility companies for wastewater treatment. Now, with the development of technologies that can be used on a smaller scale, they can now treat their own industrial waste – and even recycle some of it, using bacteria to collect precious metals in wastewater. They are becoming more and more autonomous.
Renita: Ah, so that could take a significant source of income.
Arnaud: Exactly. So when the utility company we were speaking with understood the business impact, they started paying attention.
Likewise, in a world where we ship products made from synthetic biology, moving vaccine shipments requiring very cold temperatures across cities and countries, logistics companies will need to develop new shipping capabilities.
Renita: You therefore play a twinning role between deep tech startups and large companies that could use their technologies.
Arnaud: Yes, this is one of our most popular services. For example, if an aerospace company wishes to build a digital model of its planes, we share a call for tenders with our network of startups working in “digital binoculars”. Then we connect them and help them plan their collaboration.
Each year, 5,000 start-ups apply for the Hello Tomorrow challenge. It gives us access to a lot of data, a view of scientific and business trends one, two, three years before they happen.
Renita: So it’s not just about introducing cutting edge technology as a technology, it’s really a mindset, changing the fundamental structure of your business, the culture, the way it operates.
Arnaud: He is. Speaking to Members of the European Parliament recently, I stressed that the key to taking advantage of the deep technology approach and ensuring that it is successful is to have a real ‘problem orientation’, in focusing on a clear, existing problem. Not just trying to apply your technology.
It is also about reframe the problem. Because often companies with a long history cause problems based on the conditions of 10 or 20 years ago.
For example, when Adidas framed the problem of recycling its shoes as follows: “How can we recycle these shoes that have 30 different materials stuck together?” It was impossible to find a solution.
But when they phrased the problem as “Can we make a polymer that can be used to make the whole shoe?” It changed their way of thinking.
Renita: I like this. Framing the problem will become a critical skill for leaders.
Arnaud: And the cropping. This is where startups have an advantage, because they are starting with a clean slate. And in deep tech, the potential convergence of all new technologies creates almost limitless possibilities.
Renita: So you’re saying that there is an endless set of solutions that businesses can ignore.
Arnaud: That’s it. And it is not necessary to understand all the technical aspects, but all team members should understand what technology can do, because if you don’t know that something is even possible, there is no way to define the problem.
Moreover, in large companies, the environment does not encourage the invention of new things; it’s encouraging people to simply repeat success in order to grow. They don’t take real risks.
Renita: It’s all about gradually improving and protecting what you have.
Arnaud: Exactly. If you want meaningful change, you have to take a leap of faith. Build strong convictions, based on a vision of what the industry will look like in five or 10 years. Half the projects may not be successful, but the stake is worth the risk. But that’s the mindset of a VC, not a manager of a traditional business unit.
Renita: And how does the ecosystem play in there?
Arnaud: Deep tech solutions are often the convergence of several technologies. For example, in synthetic biology, you need biotechnology to make the bacteria, robotics to do it on a large scale, and artificial intelligence to analyze the data and quickly redesign organisms.
Most companies don’t have all the skills in-house, so they need to partner with others.
Renita: So that goes back to the mindset – being open to connecting and partnering with others, to create solutions. It requires being less ego driven, less focused on winning and first.
Arnaud: Okay, because then the pie doesn’t get bigger. We are talking about new totally unexplored territories. You can be a pioneer with a partner.
But if you are afraid, like some companies, to open up on your strategy, you are limiting the potential partners who can help you achieve it.
Instead, it’s like open-sourcing your strategy. So we work with companies to define the challenge they want to solve, their value proposition, and then we communicate that widely on social media and directly reach out to startups and other companies who can decide if they have something to contribute.
Renita: So to ride the deep tech wave, leaders need to master problem (re) framing, make big bets, and play the ecosystem game. Speaking of ecosystem, I look forward to attending the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit, which will be held in person again this year.
Arnaud: Yes, 3,000 startups, VCs, researchers and industry leaders will meet in Paris on December 2-3 to explore solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges. This is the best way to see what deep technology is.