The manager of CSIRO’s $200 million innovation fund has made its first round of investments into promising Australian startups, selecting four companies that focus on “deep tech” areas such as quantum computing and next-generation Wi-Fi.
The Main Sequence Ventures fund was established in December last year to manage the investments and is headed up by Blackbird Ventures co-founder Bill Bartee and ex-Pollenizer chief executive Phil Morle. At the time of launch, Bartee said the fund’s purpose was to back the “most ambitious entrepreneurs who want to build important, enduring companies”.
Submissions for investment have been open over the past few months, and today the research body announced investments in four Australian startups: Q-Ctrl, Intersective, Morse Micro and Maxwell MRI.
Respectively, these startups cover areas such as quantum computing, data science for improved learning, next-generation Wi-Fi technology, and advanced cancer detection software. The exact amounts invested in each of the companies has not been disclosed.
Each of these fall into Morle’s latest fascination, the developing area of startup technology he calls “deep tech” and Main Sequence’s prime area of interest.
“A deep tech founder is what we describe as someone with a desire like an entrepreneur to build something large and significant, but by solving a difficult problem with a unique solution, often achieved through science or technology,” Morle tells StartupSmart.
“Another way of looking at it is the kind of knowledge you acquire from really trying to understand something unique you might just find in a lab; a knowledge you can’t just read a bunch of blog posts and figure out for yourself.”
Morle is incredibly bullish on the Australian deep tech landscape, believing there’s an incredible wealth of research talent available to fuel a “coming wave” of startups, boosted by a mentality he sees trickling down from global tech giants.
“Look at Apple, Alphabet, Amazon. They’re all moving from their digital innovation routes into more deep tech innovation — things like quantum computing and autonomous vehicles,” he says.
“This research and development needs different types of skills which are available in spades here in Australia, and the fund is here to help them out.”
Main Sequence investment the first step in deep tech “fluidity”
Beau Leese, co-founder of Intersective Beau Leese, said in a statement the investment from Main Sequence will help his company double down on research and development in the data science area, and hopefully forge new collaborative relationships with different universities and research organisations.
“We will also use the funding to accelerate our international expansion, with significant customers already in the US, Vietnam and India,” Leese said.
“I think successful innovation constantly requires thinking that runs counter to accepted wisdom. Main Sequence Ventures is looking at problems and technologies and teams that don’t fit the mould, but may have a shot at breaking it — very much the mindset we were looking for in an investment partner.”
The process of finding appropriate startups for investment was not a straightforward one, with Morle and his colleagues finding that investments into spaces like quantum computing can require capital commitments outside of the scope of Main Sequence.
“Quantum computing core work requires deeper pockets than we have,” laughs Morle.
Instead, the team went from entrepreneur to entrepreneur and asked what section of quantum computing was ready for venture capital investment and commercialisation, leading them to Q-Crtl, which creates the firmware framework for quantum computers.
“How does the software layer talk to a quantum computer? That’s what Q-Ctrl is looking at and that’s the company we’re here to give oxygen to,” he says.
Morle hopes Main Sequence’s latest efforts will fuel more interest from local startups in the deep tech space, but says more widespread support is likely needed to really kickstart growth in the area.
“One of the things that amazed me when you get inside the cookie jar of Australian research is that there are amazing things happening all the time. Just go and have a look around, you’ll find insights you may have never thought of and new ways of making things,” he says.
“We’re really hoping to make an impact and let the fund create greater fluidity across the sector.”