Born, a billion to invest in startups. Here's how he wants to spend it

Born, a billion to invest in startups. Here's how he wants to spend it


Mons and Brussels - If for politics 2023 will be the year in which to choose who will take the place of Jens Stoltenberg as NATO secretary general, for the world of industry and technology the wait is all about the start of Diana , the startup accelerator of the North Atlantic Alliance. A program to recruit innovative companies in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, quantum computing, cybersecurity and space, which travels hand in hand with a billion euro fund, to invest in the growth of the companies considered most interesting by the 30 allies.

In both cases, answers will have to come from the NATO summit scheduled for June next year in Vilnius, Lithuania. The roadmap established by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is that on that occasion Diana, so far only an acronym (North Atlantic Defense Innovation Accelerator) that has greatly enticed the industry sector defense, cut his first goal. “The idea is to determine who will be the innovators who will work with us in time for the summit,” explains Phil Lockwood, head of the innovation unit in an interview with at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The points:

Roadmap The innovation fund An innovative system of tenders NATO will launch its first call for startups in April 2023 First call for Diana, the accelerator of the Alliance to recruit innovative companies in frontier technologies such as intelligence artificial and robotic in the service of defense. Two more races scheduled for next year


Let's rewind the tape. Right now Diana is still a name to give body to. There are the commitments of the NATO leaders, a calendar of initiatives, two regional offices (in Canada and the United Kingdom) and a network of nine accelerators and 63 test centers. “We cannot continue with the old bureaucratic ways of doing business - the deputy secretary of the Alliance, Mircea Geoană, tells -. The speed of transformation is so intense, the competition is so intense. And we have to work with the private sector, which today produces the technology that the defense sector also needs. ”

The next step is to appoint Diana's CEO. NATO, which has relied on the True platform, plans to do so by the end of the year. In April 2023, the first of three tenders to select startups will be held, as announced by David van Weel, assistant general secretary of the organization.

“When we thought of Diana on a conceptual level, we thought that each challenge program could select up to 20 startups, for a total of 60 - observes Lockwood -. I think it's a lot to go. The recommendations that have come to us from other acceleration programs are not to take too strong an approach, so I think we will keep on the half, 30, also to understand what kind of technologies we are able to attract and be sure that we will ensure the best. ".

The sectors of the first calls are still being defined. The word is up to the 30 allies. Lockwood, however, anticipates that, on the one hand, "Europe is facing a crisis linked to energy security and this is linked to our climate commitments". On the other hand, he continues, “artificial intelligence covers many of our emerging and disruptive technologies (edt, emerging disruptive technologies, ed) and I expect a call to deal with them”.

NATO raises a billion to finance startups and frontier technologies Diana, the accelerator of the Alliance, and an innovation fund are at the starting blocks. Artificial intelligence, biotech, quantum computers, space and cyber at the heart of investments. Centers to test new technologies have been chosen in Italy

The innovation fund

In parallel, the 1 billion euro innovation fund travels, which will have to place chips on the most deserving startups selected by Diana. “It is the first multinational sovereign venture capital fund. The volume of one billion is not much, but we are trying to adapt to reality, ”explains Geoană. And he adds: "If the innovators are selected by Diana, they will have access to our money and when they are mature, they will be able to go to the market or to the largest venture capital funds". Also in this case the goal is the Vilnius summit, the way that the fund can write off the first checks as soon as the startups are selected.

The direction of the fund will be entrusted to an independent board, composed of nine people . According to what learns from sources working on the project, three will be recruited from academia, three from venture capital funds and three will have to have experience in the world of defense. Egon & Zehnder is the headhunters' company in charge of selecting the most suitable curricula.

In parallel, NATO is meeting with companies and investors in the sector, especially in the deep tech sector, to identify the fund's partners. The goal is to have four on board in this first phase. According to what learns from sources close to the project, there are ongoing dialogues with corporate-type funds, including those of the pharmaceutical company Merck, the European aeronautical giant Airbus, the defense multinationals Thales and Lockheed Martin, and with Fortysix. In parallel, NATO is meeting pure investment funds in the deep tech field, such as the English Amadeus, which has a billion dollar operations in 180 startups, from cybersecurity to semiconductors to biotech, and VSquared, which has put money into aerospace and quantum computing segments. Dialogues are now taking place on a weekly basis.

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An innovative system of tenders

Diana and the fund are the alliance's attempt to break free from the rigid fences of public procurement. If it works, “it will kill the dinosaurs. Otherwise, she will be considered a failed test, ”she told a source who has asked for anonymity and is following the plans closely. The industry can only agree. A billion euros on the plate in times of galloping rates is good news for tech companies. At Nato Edge, a conference organized by the information technology Alliance agency in Mons, the capital of Hainaut, the refrain was: “We want Diana now”.

At the same meeting Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, general director of the trade association Digitaleurope, which among its 98 members counts giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Oppo, TikTok, Xiaomi and Zoom, noted that "we need Diana to scale small tech companies in countries that share our mindset." In other words: keep Chinese funds away from the most innovative startups. A movement that started again this summer, after the block linked to the rectification phase wanted by president Xi Jinping, and led by Tencent (the parent company of the super app Wechat), which has staked its chips on many gaming development studios. There are five operations in Europe signed by Tencent between September and October. One a week, according to the observatory on investments from China in European startups, which has a total of 92 transactions.

For the Deputy Secretary General, “the fund can be a response to Chinese investments, in the form of reliable capital. The NATO method could be replicated by the company to increase defenses ". NATO, insists Geoană, "is good at setting standards" and "maintaining interoperability among allies."

The organization has identified nine emerging and disruptive technologies on which to focus its efforts. The first is artificial intelligence, on which an operational strategy has already been developed. Then data, autonomy (understanding of machines and vehicles), biotechnologies, hypersonic motors, space, new materials and energy. And quantum computing, on which, the deputy secretary anticipates, "we are preparing the strategy for April 2023".

"The industry tells us that this technology will be commercially available by the end of the decade, it becomes a reality while let's talk ”, observes Geoană. “Whether you consider it near or far, quantum computing is about to arrive - echoes Matt Fussa, responsible for the strategy of trust in the IT giant -. We have to prepare ourselves to be resistant for when that day comes ”. “Today we would all be vulnerable to that type of attack,” says Lesku Gergely László, head of international operations at Socwise, a German company that builds security operations centers.

The list of technologies in which NATO wants to invest remains open, based on the reports of the scientific office (which has over 500 engineers). "We also look at the" weak signals "about the future, such as synthetic biology or meta-materials - says the deputy secretary -. NATO wants to anticipate long-term trends". Diana will have to look far away.

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