This article was published on June 18, 2024

Space forges, faster AI, and battlefield robots: NATO backs first 4 European startups

The €1B NATO Innovation Fund aims to boost the defence tech capabilities of the Alliance


Space forges, faster AI, and battlefield robots: NATO backs first 4 European startups

NATO has confirmed the first group of European startups and venture capital firms it’s investing in as part of its €1bn innovation fund.

Officially launched in 2023, the NATO Innovation Fund (NIF) is a multi-sovereign VC fund that will back early-stage deep tech startups and VCs targeting emerging technologies with military and defence applications.

The list of technologies ranges from AI, big data processing, and quantum computing to biotech, novel materials, and spacetech. The NIF’s aim is to enhance the defence and security of the 24 members of the Alliance. Its headquarters are located in the Netherlands.

“Enabling capital and support for strategic technologies is key to securing a safe and prosperous future for the Alliance’s one billion citizens,” said Andrea Traversone, Managing Partner of the fund.

The first European startups to get backing

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The NIF’s initial equity investments focus on AI, robotics, spacetech, and novel materials. Here are the first European startups receiving backing from the fund:

ARX Robotics: The German startup develops modular, unmanned robotic vehicles for military and commercial applications. The vehicles enable remote control and can be fitted with equipment such as mine-sweeping devices, radar, and medical stretchers.

Founded in 2022, ARX Robotics has built 12 robots to date, already tested by army forces in Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary.

Fractile: A spinout from the University of Oxford, the London-based company builds computer chips it says enable large language models (LLMs) to run faster. The startup’s technology boosts AI performance by running the operations needed for model interference in memory.

iCOMAT: Founded in 2019, the UK startup is building ultralight materials for the aerospace and automotive sector.

The company has developed a fully automated manufacturing process that turns carbon fibre into composite materials, which are up to 65% lighter than the equivalent materials currently in use.

The lighter weight enables vehicles, such as fighter jets, not only to be faster, but also to use less fuel.

Space Forge: The Welsh company aims to establish reusable on-orbit manufacturing capabilities that harness the conditions of the space environments, such as microgravity.

It focuses on the production of semiconductor materials for critical infrastructure, with use cases spanning from aerospace to quantum and telecommunications.

NATO invests in four VC firms

The NIF is also funding four European venture capital firms that are backing early-stage deep tech startups with a focus on the defence, security, and resilience markets. These are: Alpine Space Ventures, OTB Ventures, Join Capital, and Vsquared Ventures.

The fund will invest the €1bn total over the course of 15 years, and it seems that Europe will attract further support.

“When it comes to defence tech, the market has grown dramatically over the past three or four years for the geopolitical reasons we all know,” Traversone told the Financial Times.

The trend emerged earlier in the US, he said, but he believes that Europe is now catching up quickly.

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