6 exciting start up technologies to watch

Which technologies are investors betting on? Here are six to keep an eye on.

By Garage Staff — May 12, 2022

If 2021 was the year of economic recovery — thanks to optimism fueled by Covid-19 vaccines — 2022 has fast shown how fragile that recovery is. Geopolitical tensions are continuing to influence markets, with gas prices in Europe surging more than 30 percent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, new pandemic-related shutdowns in China (and the China-U.S. trade war) are continuing to rock global supply chains. And the effects of climate change remain a persistent threat.

All of these challenges require constant innovation — new technology to help companies automate warehouses, for example, or help countries reach ambitious net zero emissions goals. Which technologies are investors betting on as the next most essential (and exciting) ones? Here are six to watch. 


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Green energy

Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — as called for in the 2015 Paris Agreement — will require $9.2 trillion in annual average spending on physical assets, according to a new McKinsey report. Of that, 20 percent will be developing renewable energy capacity (solar plants, wind farms) and upgrading transmission and distribution networks, (Another 40 percent will be electric vehicles and charging infrastructure — see “battery technology.”)

Costs for the two fastest-growing types of renewable energy — solar and wind — have dropped more than 80 percent since 2010. That’s thanks to industry competition (in the case of solar) and longer blades that allow for increased energy output (wind).

But Greenbacker Development Opportunities Fund, which invests in sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy technologies, has recently focused on small hydroelectric power generation. “It’s a nice hedge, because the whole world is building solar,” said Benjamin Baker, managing director of the fund. “They’re all sad when it’s raining, but we’re happy to applaud a nice rainy winter.”

GDEV this year announced an investment in Noria Energy, a California solar developer whose projects include so-called floatovoltaics, or floating solar farms, where photovoltaic panels bob above bodies of water. Floating solar projects don’t require valuable land area, and the panels experience a cooling effect from the water beneath, preventing them from overheating and leading to greater energy generation.


Customer demand for greener products has reshaped the plastics industry, with one of the fastest growing sectors being bioplastics. As the name suggests, bioplastics are ones that are either biodegradable, bio-based (made from a renewable resource such as corn or sugar cane), or both.

Because biodegradable plastic still ends up as smaller pieces, it takes decades before the pieces disappear from nature, plus most biodegradable or compostable packaging requires special industrial facilities for processing. Enter startups replacing single-use plastics with fiber-based sustainable products, from clothing to cardboard, that can decompose in your backyard or the ocean. 

With fiber-based innovations, “we see the potential to truly address the root cause of the packaging pollution problem, as well as opportunities to disrupt other industries,” says Otilia Barbuta, a senior associate at HP Tech Ventures.

To that end, HP is partnering with European startup accelerator program TechFounders to support three companies in the molded fiber space. (In February, HP announced it had acquired Choose Packaging, inventor of the only commercially available zero-plastic paper bottle in the world. HP’s 3D printed Molded Fiber Tooling Solution — which produces the tooling to the customer’s required design — will help Choose Packaging scale up production.)

Simplifyber is changing the way clothing is made, using a cellulose-based material and creating a simplified manufacturing process. GrowPack is using corn husks to create packaging, starting with replacing the six-pack ring with its bioRing solution. And Plannalto is using sugarcane bagasse (the fibrous juice removed in sugar cane milling) as alternative material sources to replace typical wood material and is developing new types of applications with it. 

Barbuta says HP Tech Ventures is particularly excited about fiber-based innovations because of their ability to impact other industries, such as construction (where fiber-based materials could form panels or tiles) and agriculture (where farmers may be able to commercialize their agricultural residue and unused feedstock.)

Artificial intelligence

The pandemic brought new attention to artificial intelligence, as AI algorithms helped scientists quickly analyze the genetic information of SARS-CoV-2. It’s also helped scientists understand how fast the virus mutates, as well as develop and test vaccines. 

But AI’s reach stretches far beyond public health. According to a study by PwC, 52 percent of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the Covid crisis, while 86 percent say that AI is becoming a “mainstream technology” at their company. According to Ark Invest’s 2022 Big Ideas report, the market capitalization of AI hardware and software companies could scale quickly, increasing from $2.5 trillion in 2021 to $87 trillion by 2030.

“We’re excited about AI as an investment area as it promises to unlock so much potential in terms of saving time, money as well as more tailored experiences based on specific circumstances,” says Angelo Del Priore, a partner at HP Tech Ventures, “whether that’s for when to proactively service a production line or say an HP printer or PC, to what product to highlight to a specific customer.”

Del Priore says he’s particularly excited about data science tools, which can help make up for the shortage of data scientists by helping people without that background make use of the latest AI capabilities. He’s also interested in AI applications like the cashier-less checkout company AiFi, which recently raised $65 million in its Series B (which included HP.) The company currently has 40 stores, including a 6,000-sq-foot Aldi shoe store in London.

Battery technology

The past two years have been banner ones for the electric vehicle market, with global sales exceeding pre-pandemic levels by the third quarter of 2020, according to a McKinsey report. With this demand — and the forecast that there could be 26 million electric cars in the US by 2030 — comes a race to build a better battery. What chemistry will produce a battery that’s cheaper, denser, lighter and more powerful? Also crucial: The cycling capacity, or how many times the battery can be discharged and recharged. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s proposal to spend billions of dollars on vehicle electrification and clean energy only raises the stakes.

Major carmakers and equipment manufacturers — including General Motors, Kia Motors, Honda, and Volkswagen — have all raced to make bets, helping to pour $3.6 billion (yes, billion) into battery startups in 2021, according to Crunchbase. Things won’t be slowing down any time soon: Recently Bloomberg reported that Ford is planning additional investments of up to $20 billion into electric vehicles over the next five to 10 years.

But already this year three deals have raised nearly $290 million, with Factorial Energy in Woburn, Mass., raising $200 million alone in a round led by Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis. Factorial Energy makes so-called solid state batteries (SSBs), which have no flammable liquid electrolytes (like traditional lithium ion batteries). Proponents say solid state batteries are safer; they’re also generally more compact, have a longer battery life, and recharge more quickly. Industrial-grade 3D printers can already produce SSBs at scale.

Decentralized finance

Decentralized finance is an emerging digital financial infrastructure that doesn’t rely on banks or brokers to make decisions or approve transactions — and so doesn’t charge the same fees and foreign exchange rates traditional banking providers always have. (Some also say it is essential to the success of the metaverse, where, among other things, it can facilitate peer-to-peer transactions.)

This new wave of financial services innovation is a blockchain-based ecosystem, meaning that all computers on a network hold a copy of the history of transactions, and no single one of them can alter that ledger. DeFi, as it’s called, operates through computer code that acts as a digital agreement between two parties. Because the blockchain processes these smart contracts, they can be sent automatically without a third party. Enter a universe of faster, cheaper financial services, including sending money anywhere in the world, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer borrowing and lending, and buying insurance.

DeFi also offers new hope for sustainable development: There’s already a platform where you can invest in high-yield green bonds. Plus decentralized crop insurance is protecting small-scale farmers against climate risks, automating the traditionally lengthy claims process and offering prompt payments so farmers can bounce back from crop disasters such as droughts. 

Adrian Mendoza, co-founder of Mendoza Ventures in Boston, which invests in AI and fintech, thinks this is DeFi’s moment because the excitement over cryptocurrency has made it easier to talk about DeFi’s benefits.

“There is also now a mature ecosystem of fintechs that are building kits of parts to create new financial models, mobile apps and experiences,” he says. “It’s these same kits of parts that are lowering the barrier for entry for entrepreneurs.”


E-commerce companies are already big into robots for warehouse automation and last-mile delivery — Amazon alone has more than 350,000 autonomous robots working in its fulfillment centers. But robots are expected to become increasingly important across a variety of industries in 2022, thanks to rising labor costs and disrupted supply chains, according to Jay Jacobs, senior vice president and head of research and strategy for Global X, which has more than $40 billion in managed assets. 

Jacobs told CNBC “it behooves many investors to be early on [robotics] as we see it accelerate in the coming year.” A recent robotics report from private-capital data company Pitchbook, projects that the global robotics market will grow to $45.5 billion in 2022, up from $35.7 billion in 2021.

Big deals this year include Bear Robotics, which raised $81 million in March 2022 to accelerate the use of autonomous robots in the hospitality and service industry. The Redwood City, California-based startup already has shipped more than 5,000 of its Servi food service robots, which carry food and drink between kitchen and tables and can bus dirty dishes from tables back to the kitchen. 


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