Introducing Deep Tech as the New Tech

The alumni team sat down with Arnaud de la Tour, CEO and cofounder of Hello Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that propels innovation from the lab to the market, to talk about Hello Tomorrow, his career path, and how the skills he learned at BCG influence his work today.

What brought Hello Tomorrow to life?

The idea for Hello Tomorrow started years ago when I was completing my PhD in industrial economics. Xavier (cofounder and president of Hello Tomorrow, Xavier Duportet) and I noticed some very powerful technologies that we now refer to as deep tech were being massively overlooked. In them, we saw the potential to solve issues that we as a society were facing at the time, but there was an evident gap between people’s interest in deep tech and the energy and focus that was directed toward web and mobile applications. Back then, everyone was more interested in creating the next Uber than in investing in the future of this type of technology, which harnesses cutting-edge scientific innovation.

That’s what initially sparked our idea, and soon we started setting up meetings that connected scientists with business people to foster interdisciplinary relationships. Shortly after, Hello Tomorrow was born.

How many years ago did Hello Tomorrow start?

The company was officially formed in 2011, first called Science and Innovation Entrepreneurship Network. We were engineers, so we like to have names that represent our scope. Then, a communication agency helped us come up with Hello Tomorrow, which sounds much better. Hello Tomorrow as we know it today started in 2014 when we held the first Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge and Global Summit.

Hello Tomorrow unlocks the power of deep technologies to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges: What are some of Hello Tomorrow’s most important initiatives?

First, I think the Hello Tomorrow Global Challenge is one of our most important initiatives. As a mission-driven organization, we created the Challenge to identify startups that are working on cutting-edge innovations so that we could connect them with investors and industry leaders. Each year, we partner with hundreds of universities, incubators, and tech accelerators from around the world and typically receive some 4,500 applications from deep-tech startups who want to compete. The research and applications we see here generally are shown two or three years later in the World Economic Forum or in the MIT Tech Review, so we’re able to identify breakthrough innovations really early on. As such, the Challenge is a great foresight tool for us and our clients.

One of the ways we connect these startups with investors, industry leaders, and other important actors is through our annual flagship event, the aforementioned Hello Tomorrow Global Summit, which brings together high-level players in the deep-tech field. We spend lots of time finding the most inspiring people to participate in our keynotes and panels because we want to feature those who help sharpen your vision and see the world through a different angle.

A third important initiative we have recently expanded is our consulting. We merged with an innovation and design agency to combine proprietary innovation management methods and Hello Tomorrow's deep-tech network and expertise. Today, we help startups, industry, and venture capitalists keep up with fast-paced advancements and in some of these cases, we partner with BCG to expand on our transformative ways.

What is your day-to-day work like at Hello Tomorrow as CEO?

Given that I’m at a small, quickly growing company of 18, my responsibilities are quite broad. My work ranges from administrative projects to more high-level tasks, such as defining our long-term strategy, fulfilling our mission to build a sustainable business model, and managing our partnerships and our overall vision.

How is your current work today shaped by the BCG skillset you acquired during your BCG experience?

Every former BCGer is shaped by their BCG experience in a different way. I’m not a naturally structured person and tend to forget short-term imperatives to focus on bigger things. BCG helped me learn how to anticipate and organize my work and to get short-term issues under control, which has helped me focus on high-level topics at Hello Tomorrow with peace of mind. I also learned how to make a proper financial model in Excel at BCG, which now helps me maintain the finances of Hello Tomorrow. BCG taught me how to plan and deliver projects and cases, which is a skill I pride myself on when preparing presentations today. In sum, I learned at BCG how to prioritize, take effective shortcuts, and become more efficient in everything that I do. I know that if I didn’t work at BCG before, I would be worse off today.

How is BCG fitting into your broader network of partners, and how does it help you fulfill your mission? What are some of the products of this collaboration?

The collaboration between Hello Tomorrow and BCG started in 2017 because I’m a BCG alum and through connections with BCGers from the Paris office. From my perspective, the way that BCG manages former colleagues is great and through the power of the alumni network that made the collaboration happen, I can safely say that today, our affiliation with BCG has been most beneficial.

The partnership between Hello Tomorrow and BCG has a two-way synergy; BCG provides Hello Tomorrow the credibility and worldwide outreach we require to get big, new corporate contacts. For example, when we copublished a report in 2017 called From Tech to Deep Tech with the BCG media platform, it was one of the top ten most downloaded papers on BCG worldwide. For BCG, the niche expertise that Hello Tomorrow brings, puts them at the forefront of deep-tech innovation, the next big thing after the internet and mobile. Currently, a BCG team is working with us to build another report to be published in 2019, and they are also helping us with our strategy.

Are you familiar with our digital offer, especially our deep-tech capabilities achieved through BCG’s Digital Ventures and BCG GAMMA's work? What changes surprised you most in BCG's rapid development these past years from the BCG you remember?

I worked with BCG’s Digital Ventures during my time at BCG. BCG’s recent developments around their deep-tech capabilities are very important. While it’s necessary to focus 90% of efforts on business-as-usual operations, it’s also important to invest in the future. The focus around deep tech, AI, next-generation industry lines, or biotech puts BCG on the radar for clients with particular topic questions. It’s better to create the new markets than to follow, so offerings like Digital Ventures and other deep-tech initiatives are wise investments for BCG.

Four percent of our alumni are entrepreneurs, but the growth has accelerated in the past three years. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who might want to follow your lead and create something that’s world changing?

My first piece of advice would be to get started, and sooner rather than later. When you want to create a startup, you may have an idea, but that same idea will definitely not be your final model. Only when you start getting your hands dirty and creating something can you learn enough to create a great project. If you wait for a perfect idea to start working on your company, you will most likely delay it.

For those who have already started, remember that the people you surrounded yourself with will define the success of your company, so choose them carefully. I think one of the major causes for failure is misalignment between founders, so keep in mind that it’s better to work alone than to be associated with someone not aligned with your vision.

Good mentors are important. Invest time into proactively finding good people who can open doors and help you. In the end, creating a startup is something you cannot study—the only way to learn it is by doing it, so having a mentor who has already been there can help you avoid pitfalls.

This is also true for investors. I think investors are often mistaken as just a source of money. But in the end, that’s the person entrepreneurs will report to regularly, who can be very useful if chosen wisely. Sometimes people tend to go for the investors that offer them the most money or have the best working conditions. It’s better to accept a deal with less money with an investor that’s really aligned with your long-term vision or an investor that has the capability to bring in external experts and can open doors to new clients.