BCG Henderson Institute

In 1911 a German scientist, Friedrich Bergius, filed the world’s first patent on a process to produce steel using hydrogen. But it wasn’t until 1973 that Nippon Steel could design a steel-making facility based on the process. Then, in 2016, the Swedish steelmaker SSAB started working on the deep tech, teaming up with iron-ore leader LKAB and energy giant Vattenfall. Five years later, they succeeded in manufacturing the closest thing the world has seen to fossil-free steel, using green hydrogen to make steel with (almost) no carbon emissions. SSAB’s Hydrogen Breakthrough Ironmaking Technology facility, which emits mostly water vapor, will attain commercial production in three years’ time—which will mark the fruition of yet another deep tech.

As new sciences evolve, technologies mature, and customer demands are changing, deep tech is increasingly enabling business to develop radically new products and processes. We use the term “deep tech” to describe the problem-driven approach to tackling huge challenges by combining new physical technologies, such as advanced material sciences, with sophisticated digital technologies, such as A.I. and soon, quantum computing. The timing is fortuitous; several global crises—such as climate change, disease, and malnutrition—are escalating, so business has to develop radically different solutions to tackle them quickly. As a result, these deep tech-driven innovations will spawn new value-creation opportunities. It begs the question: Do you have a deep tech strategy?

Most deep technologies started developing a long time ago, but they will make an impact—sooner or later. As innovation quickens around the deep technologies that are now becoming accessible, companies will develop new offerings faster. Some technologies, such as synthetic biology and generative A.I., are already disrupting business, while others, such as nuclear fusion and quantum computing, will come to market only in the next decade.

Capturing business opportunities with deep tech requires the creation of a strategy. Many of the big challenges the world faces are industry-specific, so a given strategy must take that factor into account as well as company-specific ambitions and capabilities. In a recent MIT SMR article, we unveiled four archetypal deep-tech strategies that incumbents can deploy. Independent of the strategy, four requirements are critical to ensure that companies win with deep tech.

Sources & Notes