Differences between Deep Tech, High Tech and Low Tech

Technology Revolutions are seen from the 1800’s steam engines to today’s artificial intelligence, biotechnology and autonomous vehicles. The idea of creating the next industrial revolution is captivating; entrepreneurs want to create it, investors would like to be part of it and governments aim to create ecosystems that support it. In this write-up, we will review what differentiates low-tech, high-tech, and deep-tech innovations.

Low-tech

Low-tech is one that can be created and produced by anyone. Look around you, most menial but useful applications come from low-tech. This could be a range of innovations from a simple mechanical mechanism, to converting an existing business to a digital platform such as day-care, errand services, bakery, florist, laundry service, and food trucks. The technology behind low-tech is simple and can be easily replicated. Low-tech innovation is cheap and most often used for practical purposes. Even though low-tech contributes to a high percentage of GDP and job opportunities all around the world, it is most often underestimated and underfunded. A study in Austria finds that low-tech SMEs are more innovative than commonly assessed, and providing support for these industries will yield positive results. Accordingly, the Austrian innovation system is diversified but programs aimed at low to mid-tech innovations are scarce.

High Tech

High-tech (or Hi-Tech) is a new technology, with advanced features and capabilities, commonly focusing on selective problems for businesses and industries. High-tech reinvents core processes, business models, and changes societal behaviour on existing services, products, and coherently the way of life. Examples of high-tech startups are Plaid — software powering fin-tech apps such as Venmo and Coinbase, Bumble — a social app for dating and friend-finding, Bird — scooter startups that differs in growth strategy, Door Dash, DahMakan — on-demand food delivery apps, Uber, Grab, Lyft — crowd-sourcing business model on the existing transportation system, Mestrae — re-purposing existing footwear, BookDoc — an online platform dedicated to connecting patients to healthcare professionals, Kaodim- a service marketplace, and Carsome — an online bidding portal for used cars.

Malaysian high-tech industries have a good FDI inflow and have been a key contributor to the country’s economy, generating $90.3 Billion exports in 2018 and ranked as the 11th largest export of high-tech merchandise in 2017. High-tech development has a faster time to reach the market compared to deep-tech, and it focuses on capturing market shares hence it is a favourable venture capitalist investment.

Deep Tech

Deep-tech focuses on solving mankind’s problems by tackling societal and environmental issues. Deep-tech is revolutionary, a game-changer and disruptive, but it takes a long time to reach market. It also requires heavy capital investments, and only works if there are technical and business expertise that can support the considerable amount of research and development required. Deep-techs are difficult to replicate and their patented technology is normally commercialised.

Chart 1: Heat-map of Deep-Tech Innovation Intensity in each Industry via Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Hello Tomorrow, “From Tech to Deep Tech”

High-tech companies are investing and reshaping innovation strategies towards deep-tech. For example, Google on Google Life Sciences, Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft in Artificial Intelligence and Uber, Apple, Google in driver-less car services.

Investors and corporate VCs have started moving into deep-tech with total funding of biotech reaching USD 7.9 Billion in 2016, and similar growth seen in various segmentation.

Chart 2: Use of Corporate VCs, Incubation, and accelerator by top 30 companies in seven industries via Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Hello Tomorrow, “From Tech to Deep Tech”

Universities, public sectors, angel investors, and venture capitalists have crucial roles to play in the development of deep-tech industries. A study by BCG and Hello Tomorrow shows that 97% of startups are interested in collaborating with corporate partners as they can meet all of the startup’s needs while combining technical, industrial, and commercial skills.

Chart 3: Most critical resources via Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Hello Tomorrow, “From Tech to Deep Tech”

Some examples of promising deep-tech startups from around the world are :

Helix (US) — provides the infrastructure and services to help you carry out population-scale genomic screening and research initiatives.

Fundbox (US) — innovative Fintech company that helps small businesses grow and achieve their full potential

Beit (Europe) — Control quantum computers with complex problem-solving algorithms.

Graphcore (Europe) — Unicorn, created a new processor; Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), designed for artificial intelligence.

Lilium(Europe) — On-demand air taxi service.

ViSenze(Singapore) — Powers visual commerce at scale for retailers and publishers.

Biolidics (Singapore) — A medical device that separate and enrich cancer cells from biofluids (e.g. blood).

Polybee (Singapore) — Uses aerial robotics and computer vision, to build scalable autonomous pollination solutions for industries like indoor vertical farms, seed companies, and high-tech greenhouses .

BorderPass (Malaysia) — enabling bio-metric passports and automated gates at the airport. This venture is already in the market and is at scaling-up stage.

References:

1. Reboud Sophie, Mazzarol Tim, Soutar Geoffrey, « Low-tech vs high-tech entrepreneurship: A study in France and Australia », Journal of Innovation Economics & Management, 2014/2 (n°14), p. 121–141. DOI: 10.3917/Jie.014.0121. URL: https://www.cairn.info/revue-journal-of-innovation-economics-2014-2-page-121.htm

2. Low-Tech Magazine (Solar Powered) — https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/low-tech-solutions.html

3. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Hello Tomorrow, “From Tech to Deep Tech; Fostering Collaborations between Corporates and Startups”, Ref: http://media-publications.bcg.com/from-tech-to-deep-tech.pdf

4. The Star (2020), “On track to be a high-tech nation”, Ref: https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/06/10/on-track-to-be-high-tech-nation

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Inventor, founder, engineer | Passionate on technology advancement and humanitarian efforts

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Christine Pamela

Christine Pamela

Inventor, founder, engineer | Passionate on technology advancement and humanitarian efforts

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