Profound Trends Have Led to Unique Singularity Event: Samir Mayekar Talks Deep Tech

Founder and Former Chicago Deputy Mayer Samir Mayekar gives the keynote address at the inaugural Deep Tech Ventures Showcase.

Several trends have culminated in a unique “singularity event,” said former Chicago Deputy Mayer Samir Mayekar at the inaugural Deep Tech Ventures Showcase in June.

Deep Tech Ventures at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation was unveiled earlier this year and offers a suite of sector-specific accelerators, entrepreneurial training, and funding dedicated to supporting startups that bring world-changing science and technology to market.

As part of this, the inaugural showcase recently featured 20 startups across quantum, data science, cleantech, and life sciences. “The runway for launching a deep tech venture is long and challenging – it requires a lot of money, an extraordinary network, and resources,” said Dan Sachs, executive director of Deep Tech Ventures, leading off the occasion. “The more we can build that into our programming, the better off our founders will be.”

A founder himself, Mayekar gave the keynote address detailing changes in the deep tech space and his journey as an entrepreneur.

“In our world of deep tech there have been profound trends shaping the world today and have led to what I think is a unique singularity event,” began Mayekar.

First, he said, was the 100-year pandemic during which innovation and science helped save millions of lives and got society back up and running. Geopolitical issues also have concurrently led to supply chain shifts and a heightened push for economic nationalism, all while technology adoption cycles have continued to accelerate.

These trends, to name a few, are the foundation on which this “singularity event” is happening – and Mayekar said it will continue to last for decades, bolstered by federal policies and the passing of key legislation over the last three years. Specifically, the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest clean energy funding bill, ever.

This singularity event “will unlock generations of technology advancements to improve the lives of people all around the world and really reduce inequality,” added Mayekar, who is the cofounder of NanoGraf Corporation. “This is a good time to be an entrepreneur in the sciences.” However, this wasn’t the case a decade ago.

“It felt like the wind was always blowing in our face,” explained Mayekar, speaking to launching NanoGraf, an advanced materials company in the energy storage space.

The joke at the time was: “How do you turn a billionaire into a millionaire? Have them fund a renewable energy company.” Now, millionaires are becoming billionaires in this space, said Mayekar, whose own journey over the last decade highlights many of the unique challenges facing deep tech startups.

Two of these biggest obstacles were space and money. But today, the city has made significant strides in addressing the need for both. Mayekar noted the recently-announced Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago as an example of this – and another proof point cementing Chicago’s status “as the next big thing in the life sciences.” And Mayekar predicted that more tech hubs will be created across the Midwest, which he said could also experience a new wave of US-based factory openings. “I think we’ll see hundreds of millions of dollars to create deep tech jobs,” he added.

Mayekar’s final prediction was the continued improvement of the university ecosystem, including new programs, more capital, and space, as well as the entrepreneurial students and faculty who see the opportunities. A different landscape from when he founded Nanograf – which recently raised $65 million to manufacture batteries locally – Mayekar said “there is no better time than now and no better place than Chicago for you to build your deep tech company.”

“We have an opportunity here,” he added. “This is our singularity event and we need to take advantage of it… because the wind is at our backs for the first time in generations.”

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