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NATO’s New Tech Accelerator Is Looking For Its First Group Of Startups

The Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA, initiative aims to pair companies with funds to test dual-use tech that can work in defense and commercial sectors.

NATO’s tech accelerator is going live on Monday with its first callout for startups with technologies in energy supply resilience, sensing and surveillance, and secure information sharing that can be used by the military and commercially. 

The Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic, or DIANA, initiative will get several million euros in funding for this year and an estimated €50 million—$54.7 million—for future years, with the goal of increasing funding over time. 

“We will be writing grants of €100,000 for the first six months during the acceleration program and then up to €300,000 for the following six months if you get through, successfully, the first, the first phase,” said Deeph Chana, the managing director of DIANA, adding that DIANA doesn’t take an equity or intellectual property stake in the companies it funds. 

The program will also work with the NATO Innovation Fund, a multi-nation venture capital fund launched last year.

Besides seed funding, DIANA offers companies “a dual-use accelerator program” that teams them with 11 deep tech acceleration sites in the NATO alliance, and gives them access to more than 90 test centers, as well as contacts from government entities and academia. To be considered, companies must be incorporated in a NATO country. 

“We are very explicitly encouraging startups to have applications in the more traditional tactical military domain, as well as, shall we say, in a sort of civil space such that they have a diverse opportunity for revenue, which we think builds more resilient, more investable companies in this space,” Chana said. “And of course, North America is a massive part of this equation. And in this phase, we will have accelerator sites in Seattle and Boston taking part in the pilot, and a regional office locally in Canada.”

Also, to mitigate concerns of adversarial capital investments, DIANA will advise “startups from the outset to think very carefully about their current positions in terms of their investment makeup, how they might pivot away from that, if it's something that looks like it represents a risk to the growth of the company,” Chana said. “As you go through the DIANA program, we're going to be building in competence with the founders. So it's effectively a curriculum as well as a networking opportunity.”

The idea is for companies to blossom inside these accelerator sites and then test their tech in one of the test centers to get user feedback and best understand what the requirements are. 

“We want to give people permission to fail quickly. Because one of the things that we see in defensive security is quite often that innovation, when it goes to a test or to a trial, it's not really an experimental place for people to actually fail in a safe way,” Chana said. “They get to expose all of their flaws and then, unfortunately, what happens, quite often, is that that's the end of it.”

NATO has been expanding its role in tech investments and policy with the launches of DIANA and its venture capital fund. And has also looked to the Ukraine conflict to identify tech priorities. 

And while no specific country is being targeted to participate in the DIANA accelerator, Chana said Ukraine’s response to the Russian invasion has been proof of the utility of an “innovative mindset” and how effective agile tech solutions can be.  

“This is about creating a systemic capability for the alliance so that we can not only be able to address the kind of issue that we've seen happening in Ukraine, but also hedge off the risk of similar issues emerging in the future,” Chana said. “We're looking at how science and technology can be used to reduce the probability of conflict in the first place. And when you're in conflict, resolve quickly, efficiently, with minimal impact.”