Farewell to a very Dickensian 2020 – Founder’s Letter

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The S&P 500 fell by over 30% between February 19th and March 23rd, and then rose by over 60% from March to December 2020. All in the midst of death, despair and uncertainty. Mercenary though it sounds, 2020 has been a good year for some – for online businesses especially.

At Propel(x), we closed a round of financing earlier this year. As part of this round, we welcomed Franklin Templeton as an investor in our company, among others. We also saw our deal-flow grow in volume in alignment with our mission to enable investments in technologies that matter.

As the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for people to connect in person, we introduced various virtual events to engage our community – we now have weekly ‘Deep Tech Investor Calls’ on Wednesdays at 9:00am PT for accredited investors registered on the Propel(x) platform. These are deep-dives into companies that are currently fund-raising on Propel(x).

Our monthly panel discussions on topical events featured experienced investors and entrepreneurs in the deep technology space. If you missed attending any of these, you can watch a replay here. For those who wished for less screen time, we started a podcast and a series of short audio clips called ‘byte sized audio insights.’

Our investment platform itself underwent changes as we streamlined our operational processes for efficiency and effectiveness. Several months ago, we reached out to our member investors for inputs and suggestions on how we can serve them better. Their insights guided us to prioritize certain product features and continue improving existing ones. Outside of Propel(x), the pandemic weighed heavily on the investment community. Many venture firms shuttered shops, particularly for early-stage companies raising seed rounds. We did our part by helping bring to market potential solutions to the pandemic.

Some of the companies that raised financing on Propel(x) to bring potential COVID-19 related solutions to market included:

  • Aegis: a life-science startup that seeks to bring DNA based vaccines and therapeutics to market.
  • Teselagen: an AI powered platform that enables design and testing of new biotechnology molecules. This could be potentially useful in designing new vaccines.
  • Motion Gestures: an AI software platform for enabling gestures-based interaction. Among critical applications being pursued in COVID times are contactless user interfaces for banking machines, ticketing machines, and information kiosks located in public places.
  • Aperiomics: a service that could potentially identify nearly 40,000 microorganisms (bacteria, virus, fungus, and parasite) in a single test. One of the immediate applications is to potentially diagnose the COVID virus. Aperiomics received FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization and provided thousands of test kits that enabled rapid testing for the COVID virus, at a time when testing was not widely available in the U.S.

Aside from these companies which could potentially play an important and immediate role in fighting the pandemic, we helped raise financing for numerous other companies that are developing potential solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. As pioneers in deep technology, we were privileged to help these companies raise financing. Some of these included:

  • Weav3D: a startup commercializing novel composite materials produced using their proprietary composite lattice forming process. Spun-out from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017, this technology has the potential to enable significant light weighting of automotive components (as an example) without compromising part strength. Technologies like these have the potential to reduce vehicle CO2 emissions. WEAV3D is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Georgia Research Alliance.
  • Aperio Systems: industrial data integrity software that is currently being used by utilities to monitor data from millions of sensors.
  • Proteowise: high-throughput and low cost proteomics technology spun out from Yale University. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the analysis of proteomes and proteins, just as high throughput sequencing revolutionized the analysis of genomes and genes.
  • Brelyon: team of MIT trained scientists bringing ultra-reality to market – the next step up from virtual reality. Brelyon is now launching initial pilots with financial service and gaming firms. Congratulations to the team!

These were just some of the companies that raised financing via Propel(x). The common thread among all of them is that they are using the power of science, research and engineering to potentially solve some of the world’s great challenges. We are proud to be part of their journey.

We realize how far we have come when we hear the term ‘deep technology’ being liberally used by many startups and investors today. Globally, deep-tech is now a thing. A far cry from several years ago when we pioneered the concept of deep technology startups, and people’s reaction usually was: “Wha?” “Deep-what?” or “What is deep technology?” Now it is a category that startups aspire to focus on and investors want to invest in.

With concerns around climate change and social responsibility, leading investment banks and financial institutions across the globe are taking a new interest in ‘ESG investing’ – a cousin of ‘deep tech investing.’ Although we have come far, we still have miles to go before we achieve our final vision of a thriving marketplace for both primary fund-raising and secondary transactions. As we build towards that in 2021, I must conclude with gratitude. Gratitude to our member investors who have continued to be our patrons through the ups and downs this year, and gratitude that our employees are safe and that we have continued to grow despite the gloom around us. In the midst of it all, Lisheng and I wish you moments of peace, healing, and happiness and look forward to continuing our journey together in the new year.

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