How ‘technical’ does one need to be to be a deep tech investor? What are the foundational elements of knowledge that one should have in possession?

Phil Morle
2 min readJan 24, 2023

No two deep tech investors are the same. Some are very technical, trained in science and able to go deep into the foundations of an invention. Some are from entirely different backgrounds.

It is helpful to understand the science, but it is not core because we are investors, not scientists. Our primary job is to discover and grow companies.

We can’t be experts in everything, and sometimes it is good to have something of the opposite. I may be a useful, confounding example of this. I began my career as a theatre director. I think like an artist and not like a scientist. I am absolutely the ‘dumbest person in the room’ when I am with the people we invest in. But the role I play is crucial.

The starting point for any of these companies is probably some great science. We need some process to come to a position of risk and opportunity around this. Then there will be a bunch of other stuff that is missing. Precisely NOT the science. The story, the market, the pricing model, the talent… everything else.

So, what do you need to possess?

  • A deep curiosity: when confronted with something new, the first instinct is a deep fascination with how it works. You want to understand enough to be able to have a conversation. Especially to answer ‘So what?’ questions and to understand the risk and opportunity.
  • Synthesis: everything we look at is new. There is very unlikely to be a playbook that is ready to slot in this new innovation. Ideally you will be bringing in a broad knowledge toolkit that you can weave through this opportunity to bring new connections and new cohesion.
  • Something other than tech: the founders of the company know the tech. They are probably the best in the world. What do you do? How are you useful by bringing a contribution they are desperate to understand?

No doubt, having some technical training is an advantage as long as you can shake it off when you need to do all the other work of a venture builder.

Thank you to @Adam_CV_Miller for this question.

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Phil Morle

Deep tech VC — Main Sequence Ventures. Ecosystem builder. Maker. Director. Startup Scientist.