Special Series #4: Venture Beyond ClimateTech, GenAI, and Corporate SaaS

Unconventional and promising startups by Uniborn
Barbara Krassner
🇬🇪 Uniborn Team
4 min read

Venture investors should always keep their sights set on the horizon, searching for the next big thing. Still, getting caught up in the buzz surrounding popular sectors like generative AI or the "classics" of post-COVID ventures, B2B SaaS is easy. But with a whopping 137,000 startups emerging daily, there's a whole world of non-mainstream innovation waiting to be explored. To inspire you, we've curated a selection of not-so-obvious business fields that are incredibly relevant for now. 

Energy sovereignty is a very hot topic, yet many venture capitalists still shy away from it, despite changing times

By the end of 2024, the European nuclear startup scene could see a billion euros raised, thanks to Newcleo, a British unicorn. It's developing compact reactors, aka small modular reactors (SMRs), that are smaller, cheaper, safer, and more efficient than traditional ones. What's truly groundbreaking is that these reactors can run on reprocessed nuclear fuel.

An illustration of SMRs capacities. (Image: IAEA)
An illustration of SMRs capacities. (Image: IAEA)

If Newcleo actually gets €1 billion, it would be the second largest raise in the nuclear sector globally — and the largest, by some way, in Europe, as Sifted writes. But the ambition doesn't stop there; the project aims to secure at least €3 billion in investments by the decade’s end.

Newcleo's roadmap includes plans for a research center in Italy by 2026, followed by a fuel reprocessing plant and demonstration reactor in France by 2030. Their vision extends to launching the first profitable commercial reactor, potentially in the UK post-2033, with plans for a fleet of reactors spanning across Europe.

Newcleo isn't alone in this venture. Swedish company Blykalla and Munich-based Marvel Fusion are also pushing the boundaries of energy technology. Blykalla is also all about SMRs; Marvel Fusion is exploring non-thermal nuclear fusion reactions using high-energy lasers, paving the way for cleaner and safer energy solutions.

By the way, check out this map showcasing nuclear fusion projects: with 50 startups worldwide (13 in Europe), they've collectively pulled in a hefty $5.5 billion in venture funding. So, unlike nuclear fission, fusion is a less crowded (according to Dealroom estimates, European venture funds currently account for 35% of global investment in fission, compared to only 3% in fusion) yet a highly promising field.

VC funding shares went to key DeepTech areas in 2021-2023 by country. (Image: Dealroom)
VC funding shares went to key DeepTech areas in 2021-2023 by country. (Image: Dealroom)

And for those who still doubt that the energy sector is for venture capital, just ask French VC Supernova Invest. Once hesitant, they're now actively investing millions of euros in nuclear energy, reflecting a broader trend among European VCs who are increasingly recognizing the sector's immense potential. 

Semiconductor materials often intimidate venture investors, yet they're a vital niche worth exploring

The AI revolution and all of humanity's progress depend on breakthroughs in semiconductors, chips, and energy storage (which we discussed at the Private Banking Summit). However, these technologies rely on rare raw materials like graphite, which are not readily available in all regions (here, according to the European Commission, Europe is 99% dependent on imports, mainly from China).

Meet UpCatalyst, a star in Tallinn, Estonia. Their innovation? Capturing CO2 emissions, such as those from vehicle exhaust, and converting them into valuable carbon nanomaterials, including graphite. This green graphite is essential for eco-friendly car batteries, reducing harm to the environment.

One of the green graphite production stages. (Image: UpCatalyst)
One of the green graphite production stages. (Image: UpCatalyst)

In their recent funding round, UpCatalyst secured €4 million from Berlin-based venture fund Extantia, with backing from Estonian government fund SmartCap and ongoing support from existing investors. With this investment, UpCatalyst plans to build an industrial pilot reactor capable of processing 100 tons of CO2 annually, becoming the world's largest supplier of green graphite.

By 2030, UpCatalyst aims to supply 4 million eco-friendly car batteries, meeting 20% of Europe's electric vehicle market demand. This shift could potentially prevent 118.7 megatons of CO2 emissions annually, as reported by EU-Startups.

The climate crisis and pollution is also pervading. Solutions in this area desperately need venture capital

Here is another Estonian hero: Raiku, a team revolutionizing packaging with a clean alternative to plastic, bubble wrap, and foil. In fact, these are just springs made of 100% natural wood that absorb shocks perfectly, and require no chemicals and very little water and energy to produce — but as banal as the idea may seem, no one has ever done it before.

Nice and simple, right? (Image: Raiku)
Nice and simple, right? (Image: Raiku)

Raiku's innovation has already grabbed investors' attention, securing a remarkable €5.65 million from the EIC accelerator and an additional €3.15 million from private players.

There are many other successful eco-initiatives, including non-trivial ones: take Bloom & Wolf, a Dutch silk flower manufacturer, for instance. Their recent pre-seed round raised €1.4 million from CapitalT, Joanna Invests, and various angel investors. Not only do Bloom & Wolf flowers boast aesthetics, but they're also four times cheaper than fresh flowers and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by a staggering 85 times.

More inclusive — more perspective

Fortunately, the world is becoming more inclusive — and any working solutions in this direction are worthy of attention, be it educational services for single mothers or autonomous wheelchairs.

Take dotLumen, a Romanian innovator crafting groundbreaking glasses for the visually impaired and blind. According to the startup, these glasses emulate the core traits of a guide dog and incorporate cutting-edge technology akin to that of self-driving cars, aiding users in navigating their surroundings. Anyway, check out the gadget in action, it's pretty impressive! 

With over $1 million raised in investment rounds and a €9.3 million grant from the EIC accelerator, dotLumen showcased its innovation at the prestigious CES exhibition in Las Vegas earlier this year. The glasses are slated for release by year's end.

Meanwhile, in Poland, Aether Biomedical is revolutionizing the medical robotics landscape with its strides in the prosthetics market, projected to hit $4.6 billion within two years, according to ResearchAndMarkets. 

Their Zeus multifunctional bionic prosthesis is considered the most advanced today — it uses AI to process electrical impulses from the user's muscles. This enables individuals with limb loss to perform tasks once deemed almost impossible, from typing on a smartphone to eating sushi and delicately handling raw eggs. 

Zeus users can operate the farm and collect eggs without breaking them even after an amputation. (Image: CNBC)
Zeus users can operate the farm and collect eggs without breaking them even after an amputation. (Image: CNBC)

Six months ago, Aether Biomedical raised $5.8 million from J2 Ventures, Story Ventures, Chiratae Ventures and Sunfish Partners. This funding will support the company's development and expansion into the European and Asian markets, as well as their entry into the US market.

Indeed, the examples mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg, and innovation knows no bounds, whether it's space burials or molecular coffee. So, keep exploring new horizons, or better yet, collaborate with venture communities and syndicates to discover and validate ideas collectively!

Cover image: Unsplash

Share this article

Uniborn is a community-led platform for sourcing, sharing, syndicating, and amplifying startups.

Uniborn is a trade name of Uniborn OÜ, registry code 16515953, Rotermanni 6, Tallinn, 10111, Estonia.

We are not intended to be a substitute for legal, tax or financial advice.

Uniborn OÜ is licensed by the Estonian FIU as Trust and Company Service provider, operating license FIU000420.

Terms and Conditions
Privacy Policy
Risk Disclosure