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NATO DIANA invests almost €1 million in Estonia-based startups

The flags of NATO and Estonia.
The flags of NATO and Estonia. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Earlier this year, NATO's DIANA innovation accelerator launched a call for private sector companies to come up with technical solutions to a series of defense-related challenges. With over 1,300 companies applying, the best 44 have now been chosen. Nine will soon begin working in Estonia.

Five of NATO DIANA's new innovation accelerators will soon begin work in locations across the Alliance in what is the project's pilot year. One of its three European accelerators is based in Estonia, led by the Tehnopol Startup Incubator, in conjunction with the Sparkup Tartu Science Park and business accelerator Startup Wise Guys.

Head of the Tehnopol Startup Incubator and the Estonian NATO DIANA accelerator Kadri Tammai said that the companies chosen for the pilot year all align well with Estonia's strengths in cyber defense, artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems, and also its expertise in the energy sphere.

"We are bringing the defense sector, and the massive market potential that it offers, closer to start-up companies. A lot of the technologies that are currently in the development phase will not only make life more convenient, sustainable and efficient for all of us in the future, but will also make a direct contribution to building our defensive capacity," Tammai said.

Bringing the defense industry and startups together

The companies from across the Alliance accepted to the accelerator are all developing technologies that have great potential for application both in everyday life in the civilian sector and as part of national defense.

"The NATO DIANA accelerator brings together parts of the defense industry that are of great importance for Estonia and the very lively start-up ecosystem that we have here. It makes for a fertile platform from which new ideas can erupt as well as create the potential for successful new companies in the future," said Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and IT Tiit Riisalo (Eesti 200).

"New technologies that can find direct application in both military and civilian contexts will boost and enhance both our economy and our security. That is the clear reason why NATO has decided to invest much more than before in innovation," Riisalo added.

The technologies being developed fall under three general strategic categories: energy and sustainability, communications, and underwater identification and monitoring.

Among the Estonian companies selected is GaltTec, which will address challenges related to energy and sustainability, and concentrate on producing fuel cells and the necessary materials using its own patented technology. The other participating companies in the NATO DIANA Estonian accelerator are Goldilock, IceWind, Lobster Innovations, AVoptics Limited, REVOBEAM, GIM Robotics, Dronetag, and Anzen Technology Systems.

All nine teams accepted for the Estonian accelerator will receive grants of €100,000 from NATO DIANA. The best among them could gain as much as €300,000 in additional funding.

They will also have access to over 90 testing centers, a specialized training program connecting defense and business, and a network of mentors from across the Alliance.

Innovation at the heart of national defense

DIANA acts as a bridge between universities, private companies and the public sector in order to support the development of innovative technologies, which is able to help solve both civilian and military problems as well as lay the path towards a sustainably secure world in the future.

"Innovation is at the heart of national defense because it brings success on the battlefield and gives us an advantage over our enemies," said Estonian Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform).

"Estonia has been a strong supporter of NATO's aim to focus more attention than before on innovation and on future technologies. We are proud that an Estonian company was chosen for the NATO DIANA accelerator, and we await with excitement the dual-use solution becoming a reality that can strengthen our defense," Pevkur added.

"The NATO defense accelerator DIANA represents an important step taken by the alliance against new threats and challenges. The presence of DIANA in Estonia shows how highly our allies value Estonia's experience within the innovation landscape. It is very good to see the great interest shown by Estonian companies in the program, and we look forward to seeing technological solutions that will improve our defensive capacity", said Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200).

Future challenges

Alongside the Estonian accelerator, DIANA is also opening accelerators during what is the project's pilot year in Denmark and Italy, plus two additional sites in the USA.

DIANA will soon be focusing on the new challenges that NATO members states identify as priorities for the coming years, and that companies will be invited to tackle with innovative technological solutions.

NATO's long-term priorities include big data analytics, autonomy, biotech and human enhancement, along with energy and propulsion. Therefore, DIANA will launch as many as ten new challenges a year between now and 2025 with hundreds of deep tech companies from across the alliance winning financial support to develop solutions.

In addition to the accelerator, this year NATO also launched the world's first pan-alliance venture fund, the NATO Innovation Fund (NIF). The NIF is set to invest €1 billion in European startups that are developing dual-use deep technology.

The fund was established in 2023 by NATO members, with Estonia invested in it via Smartcap, which is run from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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