DIANA Managing Director Deeph Chana announces the first class of accelerator firms in a video.

DIANA Managing Director Deeph Chana announces the first class of accelerator firms in a video. DIANA

NATO innovation accelerator announces first class of startups to get help

The alliance is looking to support tech development on the European side of the Atlantic.

Forty-four companies whose products range from undersea sensing to energy resilience to communications make up the first class of startups to get help from NATO’s two-year-old innovation accelerator.

Launched in 2021, DIANA resembles the Defense Innovation Unit, In-Q-Tel, and other U.S. government efforts to support startup players working on technology that could have dual military and civilian applications. 

“We're looking for technologies which have the ability to enable capabilities in that [combat] scenario, but also to enable capabilities outside of what is the classical defense sphere, let's say, in a broader civilian commercial market. And as long as those two things are satisfied, then those are the things that we're actually going to try and look for,” Deeph Chana, DIANA’s managing director, told reporters on Thursday. 

The companies themselves don’t produce weapons so much as technology that might help troops. They include firms like McGuire Aero Propulsion Solutions; which works on net-zero emission power generation; Grayscale AI, which is developing autonomous drones that use neuromorphic computing architectures; and Finland’s GIM Robotics, which does 3D modeling and radar-based, GPS-free positioning at sea.

For starters, DIANA will give each of these startups 100,000 euros ($109,000). 

“They will then be connected into an ecosystem of test centers etc. And also we'll be marrying them with mentors,” said Chana. From there, a smaller number will receive an additional 300,000 euros to develop their products over a year.

But the bigger draw, he said, is access to testing and evaluation centers where the companies can get hands-on feedback from mullti-national military members on what could make their products more useful to some of the world’s toughest customers. The hope is that that process will increase the value and appeal of the technologies to a broader class of commercial investors. 

Chana highlighted energy as an area in which a NATO-funded startup that tests and experiments its products with military operators could go on to revolutionize a civilian market. Mobile, robust energy sources and storage technology would have military and commercial applications. 

“That capability is extremely useful for scenarios where there is no infrastructure in civil applications around the globe. And so that's a perfect example of the kind of dual-use technology where we could see a market and both of those different areas that we would look to support.”

The recent Ukraine war has also revealed the need for a greater diversity of reliable battlefield communications, particularly in situations where communications might be jammed.

“The whole area of how you might be able to set up coms in an infrastructure denied environment where you may not have also high bandwidth communications, etc. We were looking for those and we actually have seen some really good returns,” he said.