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Reflections on CogX Founder Roundtable

Perspective, by David Grimm

AI / Data Deeptech


This week as part of the #CogXFestival2022 we got together with a group of Deeptech founders and investors to share experiences and insights gained into the scaling of Deeptech companies.

The agenda covered GTM, Financing and Fundraising, Hiring and Leadership, How to Leverage the Wider Ecosystem.

Surprisingly, despite there being a bunch of investors, the key topic on the founders’ minds was hiring, team building and leadership.

David Grimm, Investment Director

Deeptech companies are looking to develop ground-breaking products, so need to hire very special and uniquely talented people. The talent pools they are fishing are often tiny. For example, the number of world class condensed matter physics specialists or experts in designing hydrogen powertrains is very small. They are also likely to be globally distributed, clustering around academic centres of excellence across the world. True Deeptech companies are breaking new ground, going beyond what is thought possible, the best people in those fields might be sceptical of what’s being achieved and need convincing, all whilst they are likely to be receiving offers of higher salaries and attractive stock options with tech giants.

Once hired the challenges don’t stop there. Measuring success when targets are often less quantitative (pre-revenue businesses can’t measure on contribution to revenue or profitability growth) and research and development pathways are typically bumpy with non-linear improvement. Founders emerging from an academic or research only background must learn to create cultures that get results and measure, motivate, and incentivise the most impactful behaviours through the ups and downs.

The way to tackle these challenges starts with the founder sharing, codifying, and living their values. Ensuring that the team is being built around what matters most. When hiring, spending time thinking about what behaviours would stem from the values you need that employee to align to and intentionally seeking those behaviours as part of the process.

Codifying the values (and how they would be demonstrated) gives the team a way to challenge and align and cultivates a culture that is a key differential in the fight for talent. The right people will be attracted to the company to be part of that culture, even in the face of higher salaries and more stability elsewhere. A great culture can not only retain the key talent but mould and shape employees, a critical factor when talent pools are small (often academic) and the best people might not arrive with all the attributes you need. You’ll also have another dimension to measure performance and growth with.

This is the area that Deeptech founders should dedicate time to, even when technical challenges are calling, and early commercial engagements need their attention, and there is that grant to write, and investors to meet, and the maelstrom of admin that comes with founding businesses is swamping everything, and, and, and…

That’s why at AlbionVC we’ve doubled down on building a talent and leadership platform, because we know it’s not easy and because we want to give our founders the tools to cultivate teams and their culture in the midst of the rest of their challenges. As our gathering this week made blindingly clear, Deeptech businesses need this just as much, if not more that traditional SaaS companies.