Defense technology and ‘resilience’ find global funding sources: Here are some of the top funders

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We live in a very different world since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. With global military spending reaching $2.4 trillion last year, startups hope to get a share of that, and previously reluctant investors are eager to help them.

The US budget is by far the largest, with $53 billion in contracts awarded to major technology companies between 2019 and 2022. But the rise of defense technology as an investment trend is entirely global.

Germany-based AI startup Helsing is a strong example of the unprecedented amounts of capital available to tech companies with military capabilities.

Investor interest is particularly strong for technological solutions with dual-use potential, meaning they can be used for both civilian and military applications. The idea that defense technology can benefit society more broadly is also reflected in the growing concept of “resilience technology.”

More than a cliché like “defense,” the term “resilience” reflects the idea that innovation can make democratic societies less vulnerable to attacks and help them recover faster.

For example, Helsing co-CEO Gundbert Scharf said he and his co-founders created the company “because we believe AI will be essential so that democracies can continue to defend their values.”

The fact that Helsing’s mission resonated with mainstream investors like Spotify founder Daniel Ek reflects a shift in mindset not just across society but also in venture capital.

Although usually prevented from investing in weapons because of so-called vice clauses, funds large and small are now willing to exercise broad flexibility to finance international startups in the tech sector with the blessing of major limited partners such as the European Investment Fund.

From the EU to Ukraine and Israel, here are some venture capital firms betting on resilience tech outside the US

NATO Innovation Fund

The NATO Innovation Fund is currently one of the most frequently mentioned players in discussions of resilience tech. A $1 billion fund is rarely overlooked, and even more so when it is dedicated to a sector where venture capital is lacking. However, it has maintained a low profile since its official launch in August 2023, even declining interview requests.

Not anymore: in a year, the NIF revealed its first investments made in a variety of sectors – AI, space tech, manufacturing, transportation and robotics; but always focused on “advancing defence, security and resilience”.

NIF’s direct investments can only go to startups from the 24 countries that are its LPs. That includes Iceland but not France, for example, which could help bring new funding to places that have traditionally received less capital but which are more eager for resilience tech than larger countries.

However, the scope of NIF is made a little more flexible by the fact that it is also a fund of funds. The VC firms it has backed so far include Alpine Space Ventures, Join Capital, OTB Ventures and VSquared Ventures.

OTB Ventures

Founded in 2017, the aforementioned OTB Ventures existed long before NIF, but its focus on deep tech is taking on a new form. With the backing of NIF as well as the European Investment Fund (EIF), the Polish-born Amsterdam-based firm has already started deploying its $185 million initial growth fund into “real tech.”

OTB’s focus on “real tech” focuses on space tech, enterprise automation and AI, cybersecurity, and fintech infrastructure; all of which could easily fall under resilience tech.

Its co-founder and managing partner Marcin Hejka also understands dual-use technology as a reality for many startups. “It’s quite natural that the defense sector is implementing more and more technologies with civilian roots,” he told TechCrunch in March.

MD One Ventures

MD One Ventures is focused on dual use, a VC firm based in the UK and investing in early-stage companies. Founded in 2021, it describes itself as “dedicated to supporting applied deep tech innovation across the UK, Europe and allies”.

This leaves the door open for a wide range of applications. MD One’s site states, “We are agnostic across many sub-sectors and technology types, and have invested in both software and hardware-based companies with (national security), enterprise, and defense backgrounds.”

Its portfolio includes startups like Labris Technologies, which offers Slack-meets-location-meets-payments for military and humanitarian scenarios, and Materials Nexus, which uses AI to discover new materials.

Israel Resilience Fund

The Israel Resilience Fund, set to be launched in late 2023 following the Hamas attacks, aims to raise $50 million to invest in startups affected by war or developing solutions relevant to Israel’s immediate needs.

It is one of the funds from Israeli investment platform OurCrowd, which by March had secured $17 million in commitments for this particular fund, for which it has waived all management fees and interest, with a focus on catalyzing co-investments from public and private sources.

From 8 investments announced last December, the Israel Resilience Fund’s portfolio has now grown to 35 teams, representing nearly 1,000 jobs in a country where 14% of the workforce works in tech. Arguably, thanks to initiatives like these, the sector has shown resilience, with Israeli startups raising over $3.1 billion since the war began.

D3

D3 is an early-stage fund whose name reflects a call for “courage to defend democracy.”

“We launched our fund in the summer of 2023 with the primary goal of investing in founders who leverage technology to help Ukraine defend itself and define the future of the West’s national security,” its site states.

With a typical investment of $125k for an equity stake of 7%, it is also open to making follow-on investments of up to $750k in subsequent rounds led by other investors. Its current portfolio covers verticals such as drones, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), often with an element of AI.

D3 was one of the promoters of the recent Defence Tech Hackathon held in London. The first of its kind, but likely not the last, confirms that these VCs will also have a growing pipeline of startups to invest in.

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