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NATO Diana accelerator is piloting in Estonia.
07 March 2024·8 min read

Katarzyna Groszkowska

Editor, Vestbee

NATO DIANA Accelerator is piloting in Estonia. Who is participating, and how the program is going

Despite the news of drying funds and lukewarm investor sentiments for 2024, there are still many opportunities to raise rounds for startups, especially those operating in deeptech or defence tech sectors. These verticals are set to be one of the most dynamic and attractive in 2024, as confirmed by investors. The outbreak of war in Ukraine has greatly boosted the funding pool available to defence tech startups, as exemplified by a recent $1 billion close of the newest NATO fund, the NATO Innovation Fund, as well as the commencement of DIANA, a deeptech accelerator for dual-use projects.

This January, the NATO DIANA Accelerator opened its pilot year, choosing Tallinn as the location for holding the acceleration program. 1300 companies applied for participation, of which nine were selected for the Estonian batch. Vestbee spoke with one of the organizers of DIANA Accelerator, Startup Wise Guys, to discuss the program and provide insights into its progress and participants.

What is DIANA

DIANA (short for Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic) is a €50 million accelerator and one of the newly established strategic forces within the NATO Alliance, dedicated to protecting the safety of its citizens. This acceleration program is aimed to support deeptech and dual-use innovators, offering access to NATO resources, grant funding, acceleration services, and assistance in tailoring their solutions for defence and security needs.

DIANA is focused on critical technology areas, including Big Data, AI, autonomy, quantum, biotechnologies, energy and propulsion, novel materials, advanced manufacturing, and space. The program’s emphasis is on dual-use applications, which encapsulate technologies that can be used for both civil and defence purposes.

Estonia was chosen for DIANA’s pilot accelerator in 2024

In January, DIANA was opened at the Tehnopol Science and Business Park in Tallinn. The helm of the acceleration program is taken by Tehnopol Startup Incubator, an Estonian accelerator.

"Estonia is internationally known as a rapidly developing digital country, but we increasingly need to contribute to solving global problems in cooperation between research and business," said Kadri Tammai, director of Tehnopol Startup Incubator in a recent press release. "The accelerator aims to provide support to early-stage high-tech startups across the region, and to help them reach the world's largest customers and investors through a broad international network."

It does so through collaboration with other major startup ecosystem players, including Sparkup Tartu Science Park and the business accelerator Startup Wise Guys.

Startup Wise Guys has been involved in the NATO DIANA accelerator and its consortium right from the beginning. We have also been investing in dual-use defence solutions since 2017 and have been a Pioneer in this vertical across all of Europe. Our role in the program is of course to run the program in collaboration with Technopol and other partners like Tartu Science Park. In addition, we provide expert mentoring as well as investment opportunities for startups, which makes this quite unique for the startups and our limited partners,” Farid Singh, General Partner at the Cybersecurity fund of Startup Wise Guys, said to Vestbee.

Some other Estonian contributors include TalTech, the University of Tartu, Foundation CR14, the National Defence College, the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences, and the Estonian Aviation Academy, with essential funding provided by the Estonian Government.

The first cohort of deeptech companies includes nine startups, with 7 from CEE, focusing on energy resilience, sensing and surveillance, and secure information sharing. They were chosen among over 1300 applicants across the Alliance: 

  • GaltTec

University of Tartu spin-off company and a developer of microtubular solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) designed to provide clean, efficient power. The company offers power drones, off-grid equipment, IoT and portable devices, and space equipment, enabling customers to achieve long-lasting and space-saving clean power generation. 

  • Lobster Robotics 

Lobster Robotics is a Dutch company developing an autonomous underwater robot that is equipped with a high-tech camera system to capture images of the seafloor up to a depth of 20,000 feet. This data is used by clients to support their environmental studies, permit applications, and decision-making processes in order to reduce surveying costs in offshore wind farms.

  • GIM Robotics

GIM is the leading mobile robotics company in Finland. It delivers precise navigation solutions for self-driving vehicles, situational awareness, and complete mobile robotic systems. The startup’s GIM SW Stack turns any mobile working machine into a full-blooded field & service robot, speeding up product development, opening new markets, and saving resources. 

  • Revobeam 

Manufacturer of communications equipment based in Poland.  Revobeam is developing new wireless solutions based on intelligent antennas with multidisciplinary use in industrial practices. The startup has already implemented projects aimed at counteracting jamming attacks inside airplanes, as well as created systems to secure and locate key elements of hospital infrastructure

  • AVoptics

This UK company specializes in providing customers with engineered photonic solutions for use in harsh environments. It is able to manufacture high-performing cable assemblies based on specific customer designs or can provide a bespoke service having a full R&D capability on-site. 

  • Dronetag

Dronetag is a Czech startup that develops technologies in order to keep drone pilots compliant with airspace standards and improve everyone’s safety. Through Dronetag Platform, customers can manage all their devices through one app and browse real-time flight data, inspect other airborne drones, and stay notified about any hazards. 

  • Icewind

Icewind is an Iceland-based designer and manufacturer of wind turbines designed to be used for telecom towers and residential applications. The company's turbines are small vertical-axis wind tools that are used in applications such as homes, cabins, and farms and also provide installation and maintenance services. 

  • Anzen Technology Systems

This UK-based company creates software solutions and intellectual property that allow organizations to utilize the public cloud for sensitive or classified information, whilst increasing data security and retaining data sovereignty.

  • Goldilock

Also based in the UK, Goldilock offers an innovative cybersecurity solution, allowing for the physical segmentation of digital assets and networks remotely, without internet dependence. Their patented technology ensures assets remain secure, invisible, and inaccessible to adversaries, connecting to the internet only when necessary or being isolated securely and physically in an instant.

What DIANA offers to startups

Each participating startup is granted €100,000, with the possibility of an additional €300,000 for the best performers. Beyond financial support, they gain exposure to NATO enterprise and 31 Allied markets, opportunities for operational environment demonstrations, and access to an investor network for third-party funding.

Participants in DIANA’s programs also have access to a network of more than 10 affiliated accelerator sites and over 90 Test Centers located in key innovation hubs across the Alliance. Regional offices of the program are also scattered all over the world — from the UK, and Canada to Tallinn. These strategic locations will serve as platforms for entrepreneurs to de-risk, demonstrate, and validate their dual-use technological solutions. Shortlisted startups will be able to establish connections with operational end users, engineers, industry partners, scientists, systems integrators, and a network of experienced mentors. 

Image: NATO DIANA Accelerator website 

Farid Singh from Startup Wise Guys also mentioned to Vestbee that the DIANA program addresses other challenges that dual-use defence startups encounter when entering the market. The key issue is the ability to sell, but for their solutions, it becomes more difficult as their sales cycles are long, and access to the market is quite tough. The Accelerator offers selected startups an entry point into the market and opportunities to secure funds from investors, extending beyond mere grants.

From another perspective, Farid Singh highlighted the contribution of the DIANA program to the Estonian startup ecosystem:

I think we need to be quite clear that Estonia can benefit is not only from these nine startups which are being accelerated in Estonia but also from the other 35 startups, 44 in total, that are being accelerated across various NATO DIANA sites. As the program is quite new it will take some time for these startups to find their feet, but we want to make sure that they have both funding and access to the market to make this a success. Estonian startups chosen in the first cohort are going to be crucial for Estonia,” he emphasized.

The selection for the new DIANA startup cohort is set to open in the spring of 2024. 

DIANA also has a complementary €1 billion NATO Innovation Fund 

NIF is a sister initiative to DIANA, harmonizing with its mission to enhance NATO’s security ecosystem. It is the world's first multi-sovereign venture capital fund, designed to bolster the global landscape of security technologies and ensure the safety of NATO’s citizens. It is primarily focused on the dual-use deeptech solutions in the fields of AI, biotechnology, energy & propulsion, manufacturing, and space.

The fund's initial close, amounting to €1 billion, was announced in August 2023 and featured contributions from twenty-three NATO allies which were officially named as Limited Partners. They included countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, the UK and more.

One of the contributions was made by Poland, which invested €42 million through its Polish Development Fund at PFR Ventures, in collaboration with the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of National Defence.

As EU Startups reports, the Fund is set to directly invest in startups located within the 23 Allied nations, along with making indirect investments in deep tech funds that have a trans-Atlantic impact. It aims to offer patient capital, tailored to the requirements and timelines of deep tech innovators, ensuring a sustainable future for the 1 billion citizens of the Alliance.

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