Deep Tech Forum 2024: The Future of Robotics, AI & Automation in Manufacturing from North America to Japan — March 7th & 8th in Kyoto!

Sabrina Sasaki
10 min readFeb 7, 2024

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Deep Tech Forum 2024 features three North American cities — Toronto (Canada); Pittsburgh (PA); and New York City (NYC)— known for their industrial backgrounds and emerging tech startup ecosystems beyond the SF/Bay Area hub. We’re now getting ready for the global Deep Tech Forum Kyoto, Japan on March 7th-8th!

Japanese corporations interested in collaborations with deep tech startups should pay closer attention to hubs where technologies clusters are thriving, beyond the usual ones in the West Coast/California, where their CVC offices are based.

Deep Tech Forum 2024: why do these three East Coast/Midwest hubs matter? And what did we learn during our Japanese delegation tour visiting Toronto, Pittsburgh and NYC?

See the volume of manufacturing resources shown on this map: in the Deep Tech/Manufacturing/Logistic segments, location matters!

Manufacturing: most of the US/Canada concentration is in the East Coast/Midwest/Great Lake areas, the region where DTF 2024 took place in January.

Open Innovation collaborations are possible when partners have strong resources, networks, and academic excellence aligned to diversity of talent that can understand potential frameworks for successful business alliances.

Monozukuri Ventures’s team in the US & Canada visits these hubs regularly to engage consistently with startup ecosystem partners - investors and industry professionals, in order to help nurture the Japanese manufacturing expertise in these segments.

2024 Topic is RAAI in Manufacturing — why investments in these regional hubs of deep tech startups matter?

  • R is for Robotics. Robotics startups in the manufacturing segment are leveraging advanced technologies such as AI /ML (machine learning), computer vision, and collaborative robotics to enhance efficiency, precision, and flexibility in manufacturing processes. The disruptions caused by global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, wars and other political instabilities have increased the focus on supply chain resilience. Robotics startups are working on solutions to optimize and automate supply chain processes to mitigate risks and enhance adaptability.
  • A is for Automation. Current challenges in the manufacturing space require efficiency and less waste in terms of resources (time, human work, energy and materials). US & Canada face similar challenges as European countries and Japan when it comes to the shortage of labour and lack of smart processes that can save time and money for corporations. The main difference between North America and other developed countries is the continental scale and proximity to the largest industrial market — the US.
  • AI is for Artificial Intelligence: Data from Carta shows that investment into AI companies tends to be more geographically concentrated. Specific applications to manufacturing and hardware devices have been developed in such hubs.
  • New York and Pittsburgh: the only metro areas beyond San Francisco /Bay Area where shares of AI investment was larger than their share of investment overall. (Source: Carta)
  • Toronto: AI godfathers selected for the ‘Nobel Prize of Computing’ — Geoff Hinton (UofT), Yann LeCun(NYU) and Yoshua Bengio (University of Montreal) are professors with extensive work in the US & Canada. Financial Times article here.
Startups spinoffs from universities (CMU in Pittsburgh) and (UofT in Toronto) have been related to AI/ML. Open AI: one of the co-founders Geoffrey Hinton is a renowned computer scientist and a professor at the University of Toronto

City 1: Toronto (Canada)

Toronto Waterloo Corridor: Between the cities of Toronto and Waterloo, the region has emerged as a powerhouse in North America driving innovation in robotics, automation, and AI within the manufacturing sector, thanks to its existing automotive cluster, connecting the area to the Detroit area of the US.

Monozukuri Ventures (Toronto): 1st Japanese early stage VC with office in Canada. Read about it: in Japanese (by Nob Seki) / in English.

Deep Tech Forum Toronto took place at Torys LLP, our co-host in Canada. Photos by Tugi Guenes.

Global Ranking: Toronto-Waterloo Corridor. (Source: Startup Genome.)

  • Top 15 in Funding, Top 20 in Talent & Experience, Top 25 in Performance
  • 15,000 tech companies, including 5,000+ startups, and more than 300,000 employees in high-tech industries.
  • 40% of the Corridor’s residents are foreign-born like me— (non Canadians) (source: McKinsey report here).
  • RIM (Research In Motion): the most known deep tech startup from this region. Recommended to watch the BlackBerry movie (2023).
Image source: McKinsey report here.
  • University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo: globally recognized for contributions in R&D leading to new discoveries and applications into traditional industries using science-based solutions.
  • World’s largest co-operative education program (co-op): an integrated experiential work program where all students gain 2+ years of real world experience while earning an undergraduate degree.
  • Diverse global talent pool contributes to the development of technologies with skilled professionals. The region attracts professionals from around the world with a diversity of backgrounds and mindsets, crucial factors for tackling complex challenges involving the commercialization of science-based solutions.
  • Innovation Hubs: The MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and the Communitech Hub in Waterloo serve as innovation hubs, providing state-of-the-art facilities, mentorship programs, and resources for startups and entrepreneurs in the robotics and AI space. These hubs act as catalysts for turning research into real-world applications.
  • Government Support and Investment: Canada recognized the strategic importance of the Toronto-Waterloo Region in the tech sector. Initiatives like the Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster and funding support from various programs further fuel research and development activities in the region. Funding and incentives for research and development in robotics and automation contribute to creating an environment conducive to innovation and technological advancements.

A sample of Toronto’s RAAI in 2024:

  • Schwartz Reisman Innovation Campus: a hub for multidisciplinary research, bringing together academia and industry partners. The new center under final construction is where both UTEST (University of Toronto Early-Stage Technology) and the Vector Institute AI have offices, collectively a powerhouse at the forefront of artificial intelligence (AI) and technology innovation.

Nestled within the University of Toronto, these organizations collaborate to advance AI research, nurture startups, and drive the development of transformative technologies. Together, they create an ecosystem that bridges academia and industry to propel Canada’s leadership in AI innovation.

MaRS Discovery District, located in the heart of Toronto, serves as a dynamic hub for innovation, research, and entrepreneurship. Known as the Urban Innovation Hub, MaRS brings together a diverse community of startups, researchers, investors, and industry partners to foster collaboration and drive meaningful advancements.

The hub is dedicated to accelerating the growth of ventures in the fields of deep tech, health, cleantech, finance, and more, making it a pivotal player in the Canadian innovation ecosystem.

University of Toronto (UofT): renowned institution with academic excellence, research, and innovation. It plays a pivotal role in fostering collaboration between academia and industry, driving advancements in various fields. World-class faculty and researchers leading groundbreaking studies.

  • Collaboration with industry partners to bridge academic research and business
  • Integration of technology, science, and business for comprehensive innovation.
  • Over 12 accelerators within different areas, including UTEST

Vector Institute AI: an independent leading AI research institution within UofT ecosystem with a focus on deep learning and machine learning. Collaboration with academia, industry, and government to advance AI research. Training the next generation of AI experts through educational programs. Startup collaborations help to drive breakthroughs in AI research, with applications spanning various domains, including healthcare, finance, and manufacturing.

Keynote speaker Tom Park (BDC Deep Tech Fund) provided a great overview of how the Canadian ecosystem fits into the global landscape. Photos by Tugi Guenes.

BDC (Bank of Development of Canada): #1 Deep Tech investor in Canada. (source: CBInsights Q4/2023 report). BDC’s Deep Tech Venture Fund is Canada’s largest VC fund ($200 million) dedicated to deep tech.

City 2: Pittsburgh (PA)

‘Pittsburgh is home to two world-class research universities — Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh — as well as two other major research institutions and dozens of other post-secondary institutions. The ecosystem continues to be home to one of the greatest concentrations of research and tech talent in the U.S., and a community of purpose-driven builders, makers, and innovators has grown up around this nucleus.

The city gained fame as “Steel City” since the industrial revolution but suffered drastic economic decline and job losses during the 1980s. Now, it uses its heritage of industry, university expertise and a skilled workforce to build the footprint to become a hub of high tech, robotics, AI, health care and much more. (Source: Startup Genome)

Robotics Factory/ Alpha Lab Gear, part of Innovation Works, have supported an increased amount of CMU spinoff companies, like ESTAT Actuation.

Monozukuri Ventures US: early stage portfolio of companies from Pittsburgh (Arieca, ARIN Technologies, CleanRobotics, Digital Dream Labs, Edge Case Research, ESTAT Actuation, Hibersense) and Philadelphia, PA (Hava Health, Vertiq).

  • Global Ranking: Pittsburgh (Source: Startup Genome.)
  • Top 20 Emerging Ecosystem in Funding, Top 25 Emerging Ecosystem in Talent&Experience, Top 20 Emerging Ecosystem in Performance
  • Sub-strenghts: Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics, Life Sciences, CleanTech
  • Aurora Technologies: one of the local startups with global relevance. Read more here.

A sample of Pittsburgh’s RAAI in 2024:

CMUs Corporate Startup Lab (CSL): at the intersection of academia and industry, a catalyst for the transformation of cutting-edge technologies into successful commercial ventures through strategic business alliances. Established with the goal of bridging the gap between innovative research and real-world applications, CSL plays a pivotal role in fostering collaboration between the university’s research expertise and corporate partners. By nurturing a dynamic ecosystem that encourages the development of startup ventures, CSL serves as a launchpad for groundbreaking ideas to evolve into market-ready products and services.

The lab actively engages with industry leaders, fostering mutually beneficial partnerships that bring together academic insights and corporate resources. Through strategic alliances, CSL not only helps startups gain access to essential resources but also enables corporations to stay at the forefront of technological advancements.

Robotics Factory (Alpha Lab Gear, part of Innovation Works umbrella) serves as a pioneering hub for advancing robotics and automation technologies, aiming to propel innovative ideas from conception to market success. This facility is committed to nurturing startups in robotics, providing a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and researchers to translate their concepts into commercially viable solutions.

Pittsburgh’s growing reputation as a hub for cutting-edge technology, particularly in the field of robotics. The factory serves as a catalyst for innovation, promoting the development of robotic technologies that have the potential to reshape industries.

Pittsburgh Robotics Network serves as a collaborative platform that brings together various stakeholders in the robotics ecosystem. This includes academic institutions, research labs, startups, established companies, and investors. The primary goal is to foster a vibrant and interconnected community that accelerates the development, commercialization, and adoption of robotic technologies. This approach not only accelerates the growth of emerging robotics companies but also strengthens the overall ecosystem for technological advancement in Pittsburgh.

City 3: NYC (NY)

Monozukuri Ventures NY Office: early stage portfolio of NYC-metro area companies (Blast Radio, FlexTraPower, Proteus Motion, Sembient)

  • Global Ranking: NYC
  • Top 2 Global Ranking, Top 2 Agtech Ranking
  • Sub-strenghts: AI, Big Data & Analytics, Life Sciences, CleanTech

A sample of NYC’s RAAI in 2024:

Source: CBInsights 2023 here.

SOSV: Deep Tech for Human and Planetary Health, it’s ranked #4 most successful accelerator hub by CBInsights, it’s also investing at early stage (pre-seed/seed) via its accelerators:

  • HAX is a well-known global leader hardtech accelerator with locations in NJ (next to NYC), and San Francisco. It’s part of SOSV, one of the top global investors that have consistently focused on hardtech/deep tech startups. Initially a hub out of Shenzhen, China, HAX has now moved its HQ to New Jersey, a region recognized for its industrial and logistics. This initiative aims to catalyze innovation in hardtech and create climate tech solutions by providing startups with the necessary resources and support to transform ideas into market-ready products.
  • IndieBio: our event co-host, under the same SOSV umbrella, alongside HAX is focused on biotech solutions. Companies can take advantage of its resources. Locations in NYC and San Francisco.
Japanese Corporations and local startups from NYC/NJ had the chance to pitch at our open mic session. Photos by Tugi Guenes.

NewLab is a collaborative deep tech workspace and innovation center located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, providing a multidisciplinary environment for entrepreneurs, engineers, and inventors, particularly those working on deep tech projects. A hub for startups, offering a unique ecosystem that fosters collaboration, innovation, and the development of groundbreaking technologies. Workspaces equipped with cutting-edge facilities, laboratories, prototyping resources and warehouses. This collaborative environment is designed to support deep tech startups in various fields, including robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing.

  • The strength of NewLab lies in its diverse community of members spanning different disciplines. Deep tech startups benefit from interactions with professionals from various industries, encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and expertise.
  • Strategic Location: Situated in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, NewLab benefits from its proximity to New York City’s vibrant tech and innovation scene. This strategic location provides startups with access to a rich network of investors, mentors, and potential collaborators.
Partsimony is a Supply Chain startup at NewLab NY, where CEO & Co-Founder Rich gave us a demo session. Photo by Tugi Guenes.
  • Urban X by mini: tech accelerator program at NewLab created by MINI, a brand under the BMW Group. Urban-X is focused on supporting and scaling startups that are working on innovative solutions to address urban challenges: living, sustainability, and mobility.
Urban X by mini: Tristan highlights some challenges for cities in terms of mobility and carbon reduction. Photo by Tugi Guenes.

January 2024 was definitely a busy time for hardtech startups — some at CES 2024 in Las Vegas and others we met at mHub and University of Chicago Deep Tech center — I also joined a Japanese delegation by JETRO! More to be shared later.

If you'd like to join us in Japan on March 7th & 8th: sign up for Deep Tech Forum Kyoto (free for all attendees)! See you during the early spring blossoming in the best city of the world (IHMO).

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Sabrina Sasaki

Latina in Toronto. Principal@Monozukuri VC. Innovation, cultures & people. Investment & BizDev. Early Stage Hard-tech/Manufacturing Emerging Manager