Inpho Venture Summit was formed several years ago to encourage investment in photonics and Bordeaux, at the centre of a photonics ecosystem, was an obvious place to locate.
"That has expanded over time so that now the focus is on deeptech," said George Ugras. Ugras is chair of the Inpho Ventures Summit and managing director of AV8 Ventures, a transatlantic operation with offices in Palo Alto and London. Prior to leading AV8 Ugras was head of IBM Ventures. "Unlike some other areas of venture capital deeptech is a cross-border phenomenon. Europe is an attractive market but this event also addresses the US market. It provides exposure to new technologies, good investment targets looking for growth in Europe and in the US."
So is deeptech the same as hardware?
"Not quite," said Ugras. "Deeptech entails fundamental breakthroughs in hardware or software, or both, and even clever system-level design using off-the-shelf components," he added.
It is well known that ten-to-fifteen years ago venture capital largely turned away from hardware more generally and semiconductor investments in particular. The VCs fell in love with the Internet in the wake of the success of Google and Facebook and some others now forgotten. There are signs in the last five years that equity investment is returning to hardware, particularly to invest in artificial intelligence, but it is largely strategic investors that have taken up the slack.
"We've gone through a cycle where hardware fell out of fashion due to its capital-intensive nature. I've observed over recent years the take up of lower-cost ways to develop and deploy hardware. And the industry drivers around vehicle autonomy and robotics help," said Ugras.
"Strategic investors are definitely a trend. A strategic investor may be interested in building up an ecosystem and be willing to take a higher risk than a venture capitalist. They may be taking the portfolio approach and backing multiple options to cover a solution space. They invest in a few to have an acquisition candidate," Ugras added.
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