Foreword from David Leftley (CTO)

Light and its compositions has fascinated scientists for more than 2,000 years – from Aristotle to Newton, Young, Hertz and Maxwell But it was ultimately Einstein, with his photoelectric effect theory, who postulated that light is made up of particles called photons. Einstein is famous for his research on the theory of relativity yet it was his work on theoretically revealing the photoelectric effect based on the light quantum hypothesis that won him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921.

The photon has many mysterious physical properties such as possessing the dual properties of a wave and a particle. And it was Einstein himself who described things such as entanglement as “spooky”.  Learning more about these properties is allowing us to use light more effectively than ever before and applying this knowledge allows us to make significant advances in many new areas of science and technology. To date, photonics has been predominantly applied to communications with the introduction of optical fibre transforming networks as early as the 1960’s. But now we are seeing photonics taking hold in other areas such as computing, AI, sensing and quantum communications.

In the following brief, David Pollington explores the challenges and exposes some of the early stage innovation opportunities that exist in Photonics and these application areas. 

The introduction of PICs

Until now, photonics has focused predominantly on enabling high-speed communications, a lucrative market that now tops $10bn just for optical transceivers. But photonics also has application in many other areas ranging from solid-state LiDAR to inertial navigation sensors, spectrometers, refractive index biosensors, quantum computers, and accelerating AI.

This article discusses the merits of using photons rather than electrons with an especial focus on photonic integrated circuits (PICs), the wide range of integrated photonics use cases, the current industry landscape of PICs, and the opportunities for startups to innovate in this space.

A PIC is a microchip containing photonic components which form a circuit that processes photons as opposed to electrons to perform a function.

In comparison with digital microelectronic circuits in which the majority of functions are performed using transistors, with photonics it’s a little more complex; there’s no single dominant device but rather a variety of components which can be either passive (e.g. couplers, switches, modulators, multiplexers) or active (e.g., amplifiers, detectors, lasers) and then interconnected via waveguides to form a circuit.

Figure 1: Electronic and photonic circuit building blocks [AIP Publishing]

Similar to digital microelectronics, photonic circuits can be fabricated on silicon, enabling high-density PICs to be made in existing CMOS foundries and co-integrated with transistor-based electronics.  Silicon on insulator (SOI) has been the most widely used process within silicon photonics (SiPh) but is likely to be replaced in certain applications by Silicon Nitride (SiN) due to its wider spectral range, low propagation loss and higher power handling (particularly useful for detectors, spectrometers, biosensors, and quantum computers).

However, neither of the silicon-based processes can generate light on their own nor allow for the integration of active components, hence a separate process, Indium Phosphide (InP), is commonly used for fabricating high-performance amplifiers, lasers, and detectors. 

Figure 2: Number of photonic components/PIC [Chao Xiang, University of California]

The design challenges with PICs

Photonic circuit design is complex; individual components need to be tailored to the target application requirements (wavelengths; linearities; power levels), process types (SiPh, InP, SiN) and fabs (characterisation), and hence often need to be designed from scratch, requiring large design teams and/or a dependency on independent design houses.

Once the photonic circuit has been designed and verified there are still hurdles in packaging, laser integration, testing and additional processing steps – whilst packaging, assembly, and testing are only a small part of the cost for digital microelectronics (10%), the reverse is true for photonics, and can be as much as 80% of the total cost for InP photonic devices.

Fabs are starting to address this issue by providing process design kits (PDKs) that designers can use to design, simulate, and verify designs before handing them back to the foundry for fabrication.  These PDKs include a base set of photonic building blocks (BBs) to bootstrap the design process but are often limited to particular wavelengths and applications (e.g., telecoms).

A market opportunity therefore exists for design houses and other 3rd parties to license out BBs and even entire circuits that fit the broader set of application requirements. LioniX, for example, offers a range of SiN PIC modules, whilst PhotonDelta, a growth accelerator for the Dutch integrated photonics industry, offers a number of design libraries.

EDA tools can then be used for combining these BBs into photonic circuits whilst facilitating seamless integration of electronic and photonic components in IC designs where needed.

However, as mentioned earlier, these designs still then need to be optimised/characterised for the target process/fab, as imperfections and fluctuations of even a few nanometres can cause scattering or reflections and affect performance. In many respects, the photonic circuit design process is more akin to RF and PCB design than digital microelectronics – mostly analogue, and needing careful selection and qualification of components.

A number of parties are exploring ways of addressing some of these issues and accelerating photonic design. Researchers in Canada, for instance, are using machine learning to predict the precise structure of a photonic component once it’s fabricated to a particular process/fab thereby enabling accurate simulation and optimisation to circumvent the ‘trial and error’ nature of photonic design.  Similarly, a startup in the UK, Wave Photonics, has pioneered computational techniques to auto-adapt functional building blocks for different wavelengths, fabs and performance design trade-offs.

Nevertheless, the fabrication process still involves a degree of trial and error today, and it may well be 3-5yrs and require a large number of wafer runs and assemblies before the process is perfected sufficiently to deliver the predictable outcomes required to scale up to larger circuits and high volumes.

The use of photonics in communications & networking

Digital microelectronics has become pervasive, but with the demand for ever-faster compute and higher-bandwidth networking, the interaction of electrons with other particles in the copper wires at these speeds is resulting in higher energy consumption, more heat, and restrictions to performance.  Photons don’t suffer from any of these constraints being virtually frictionless and able to travel faster, support higher bandwidths, and be more energy efficient, hence present an intriguing alternative.

Whilst optical links have been introduced within data centres to form high-speed clusters, the wiring within the racks is typically copper, and as processing demands continue to rise, this is creating a bottleneck and issues around both energy consumption and cooling.

The answer is likely to be through Co-Packaged Optics (CPO) in which the switch ASICs and optical engines are integrated on a single packaged substrate to move the optical connection as close as possible to the switching chip.  Doing so enables higher density integration and improves cost effectiveness and energy efficiency with savings of up to 30% of the total system power. Ayar Labs, for example, integrate the optical/electrical components of a transceiver bar the laser inside an optical I/O chiplet.

Ayar Labs optical I/O chiplet

Figure 3: Ayar Labs optical I/O chiplet [Ayar Labs]

In a similar vein, Nvidia and TSMC are interconnecting multiple AI GPUs via a chip-on-wafer-on-substrate (CoWoS) 2.5D package, and Lightmatter’s Passage enables chiplets to be interconnected via nanophotonic waveguides.

The demand for low-power optical transceivers within data centres, and in particular for Co-Packaged Optics (CPO), will be a key driver in the growth of the silicon photonics market over the next 3-5yrs ($3-4 billion by 2025).

Accelerating AI

With AI compute requirements doubling every 3.4mths (c.f. Moore’s Law which had a 2-year doubling period) [OpenAI] fuelled most recently by the race to generative AI, there is a growing need to develop novel computing systems capable of fast and energy-efficient computation.

Figure 4: Computational requirements for training transformer models [Nvidia]

Silicon photonics may provide an answer, utilising the unique properties of light to solve complex mathematical problems and meet today’s AI compute demands but with energy consumption as low as one photon per operation and performed at the speed of light hence orders of magnitude faster and more energy efficient than digital computation (although getting data efficiently in/out the photonic chip remains a challenge).

To give an example, detecting edges in an image is of great use in the world of computer vision (e.g., for feature extraction or pattern detection) but requires a lot of compute to perform the CNN multiplication operations.

Figure 5: Example of image edge detection [Brighton Nkomo]

Fourier Transforms (FFT) represent a faster method, enabling the image data to be converted from the spatial domain to the frequency domain where edges will be represented by high frequencies which can be captured via a high pass filter.  An inverse FFT then transforms the data back into an image showing just the edges of objects in the original image.

The downside is that FFTs themselves are computationally intensive, so this approach presents only a marginal improvement when using digital computation.

Light though has unique properties, and its interference behaviour can be used to perform FFT operations in a massively parallel way that is not only incredibly fast, but also tremendously energy efficient compared to digital computation.

Figure 6: Solving a complex mathematic equation with light [Ella Maru studio]

In practise though, there remain a few obstacles. 

Optical components can’t be packed nearly as tightly as transistors hence chip size can be an issue, although membrane-based nanophotonic technologies should in future enable tens of thousands of components per chip, and new approaches such as the use of very thin nanostructured surfaces combined with semi-transparent mirrors are being explored for performing the matrix multiplications in AI/ML inference.

Another issue is around accuracy.  Today’s implementations are mainly targeted at performing inference on ML models trained using digital systems.  Physical imperfections in the PIC fabrication, and quantisation noise introduced through the optical/electrical converters for getting data in and out of the photonic chip, can result in a ‘reality gap’ between the trained model and inference output that adversely affects accuracy and energy efficiency.

These challenges though present huge opportunity for innovation, whether that be through improving PIC density, optimising the optical/electrical interface to improve precision, or harnessing the unique properties of light to deliver a step-change in AI inference performance and energy efficiency.

Salience Labs for instance are pioneering a novel ‘on-memory compute’ architecture and using different wavelengths of light to facilitate highly parallelised operation and boost performance, whilst Lumai are exploring the application of photonics for more efficient ML model training.

With the AI chip market projected to be worth a colossal $309bn by 2030 [Verified Market Research], the application of integrated photonics to AI acceleration is likely to attract a lot more investor interest and innovation going forward.

Integrated photonics in sensors

At a component level, integrated photonics is being employed in inertial sensors to achieve ultra-precise positioning/indoor navigation [Zero Point Motion], and separately is enabling laser diodes to be integrated with micro-optics and electrical interfaces on a millimetre-sized chip for use in AR/VR glasses as demonstrated in this YouTube video.

Figure 7: Fully integrated RGB laser light engine for retinal projection in AR [LionIX]

Integrated photonics also opens up the prospect of lab-on-a-chip (LOC) biosensors through a combination of miniaturisation, extreme sensitivity, supporting multiple simultaneous tests, and enabling mass production at low cost.  The Point of Care (PoC) market is expected to double in the next few years to $10.1B by 2025 [Yole Development].

Figure 8: Diagnostics platform providing Point of Care (POC) tests [SurfiX Diagnostics]

And finally, the intrinsic benefits in photonics for computing FFTs can also be used to provide the massive vector transforms needed for fast and efficient fully homomorphic encryption (FHE) to enable secure processing in the cloud or by 3rd parties without the data ever being in the clear.

Can integrated photonics reach scale?

The opportunity is clear. But for integrated photonics to thrive and reach million-scale volumes across multiple sectors there will need to be a more comprehensive set of pre-validated design libraries and tools that decouple design from the underlying fabrication and packaging technology to enable a fabless model that attracts new entrants and innovation.

The opportunity for startups is therefore twofold 1) innovating within the design process & toolchain to reduce lead times and improve performance, 2) applying integrated photonics within new products & services in networking, AI acceleration, ultra-sensitive sensors, and healthcare.

Europe has a heritage in photonics, so it’s perhaps not surprising that European research organisations, spinouts and startups are leading the industry.

Figure 9: Value chain companies by geography [PhotonDelta: SiN; InP]

In the photonics design, packaging and testing space, example European companies include Alcyon Photonics, Wave Photonics, Bright Photonics, VLC Photonics, Photon Design, FiconTEC, PhotonDelta and LioniX.

Companies developing photonic chips to accelerate AI include Optalysys, Salience Labs and Lumai whilst those using photonics to produce ultra-sensitive sensors include Zero Point Motion, Miraex and PhotonFirst; SMART Photonics and EFFECT Photonics are addressing the telecoms/networking space, and organisations such as PhotonDelta and JePPIX are helping to coordinate the growth of integrated photonics across Europe.

Integrated photonics faces many challenges, but there is increasing evidence that the technology is set to follow the same trajectory as microelectronics over the coming years. The potential upside is therefore huge, both in terms of market value but also in the opportunity this presents for innovative startups.

If you’re a startup in this space, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re delighted to welcome Vien Phan to the team, who joins Bloc as Chief Operating Officer, as we scale our operations to support fundraising and investment activity.

Vien has nearly 20 years’ experience in finance, strategy and operations roles and is a former Group Head of Strategy for London Stock Exchange Group plc. (“LSEG”).  He spent 10 years at LSEG working in Corporate Strategy and Development covering strategic planning, sourcing and screening investment and acquisition opportunities, M&A execution and integrations.

Since leaving LSEG, Vien has spent five years in a variety of advisory and operating roles serving investment firms and technology startups in the FinTech and Life Sciences sectors, with experience in early-stage company fundraising, accounting and operational finance, corporate finance, investment advisory and due diligence.

Vien started his career as a Chartered Accountant with PwC London gaining valuable transaction services and capital markets advisory experience. He holds a Masters in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry from the University of Oxford. Having served in operating, strategic and advisory roles in both public and private high growth company environments, he brings the ideal and complementary skillset to the Bloc team.

As COO, Vien will work across Bloc’s finance and operations, embedding scalability throughout the company and its portfolio. He commented: “I’m delighted to join Bloc Ventures. It is an investment firm with a differentiated operating model, uniquely deploying patient capital into the early-stage European deep tech digital infrastructure space. The investment team has an impressive track record, a specialist understanding of the sector and provides extensive industry network and operational expertise to the portfolio. Bloc has exciting plans for the future and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”  

Bruce Beckloff, CEO at Bloc Ventures, commented: “Vien’s experience over the last 20 years complements the Bloc team incredibly well. He takes our collective operational, financial and strategic expertise to another level and this will be crucial to executing Bloc’s plans for the future. We’re so pleased to have him on board.”

‘A Chat with Bruce Beckloff, CEO at Early-Stage DeepTech Investor: Bloc Ventures’. Bruce is featured in TechRound this week, sharing some of the key focus areas of Bloc and how we support deep tech companies as they take products to market. It was first published on

The full article can be found here.

Pharrowtech expands into the UK and grows its management team to boost next generation wireless products. Global millimeter-wave wireless tech leader accelerates hiring and opens two new offices as it grows its product and development capabilities.

Pharrowtech, a growing market leader in mmWave solutions for next-generation wireless applications, has opened its first UK design centre in the Thames Valley area. The UK office will be led by Dr Mehul (Micky) Mehta, and it will help bolster the company’s resources and talent pool as it grows its product offering. The news comes as Pharrowtech continues to hire at pace, including the recent acquisition of two significant new management hires.

In addition to Dr Mehta’s appointment in the UK, Claudia Bastian joins as Global HR Manager based in Leuven, Belgium. Pharrowtech’s Leuven office has moved to Philipssite to accommodate the company’s growing team and operations.  It boasts a new state-of-the-art mmWave laboratory with the latest equipment, including the most advanced mmWave network analyzer technology, several anechoic chambers, and chip characterization and qualification setups.

The opening of Pharrowtech’s UK office and the move to a new headquarter office in Belgium quadruples the company’s office and lab capabilities. It is an essential component in Pharrowtech’s growth, as it continues to develop complete solutions for next generation wireless applications and expands its capabilities to serve even more commercial markets. The UK office is now actively seeking engineers with skills in digital modem design, real-time embedded software and digital silicon.

Dr Mehul Mehta, Vice President of Pharrowtech UK, has more than two decades’ experience of working in technical and leadership roles in the wireless communications industry, having most recently served as CEO of Celestia Technologies Group. He is an expert in physical and MAC layer topics – with specialities in areas including radio (wireless) communications and digital design. To date, he has developed several solutions for 3GPP (UMTS, LTE), IEEE 802.11 (WLAN) and IEEE 802.16 (WiMAX) standards, has authored numerous journal and conference papers and holds 10 patents.

Claudia Bastian, Global HR Manager, Pharrowtech, brings over 30 years of international experience  at global technology businesses including DellEMC and OneSpan. She will spearhead Pharrowtech’s international recruitment drive, working to attract and retain the right technical talent.

Wim Van Thillo, CEO and co-founder, Pharrowtech comments, “The last two years have been a period of rapid progress for us, with product launches, significant investments, and successful trials with leading companies in the wireless industry. We are now focused on building our world-class global team of experts to fulfil our ambitions and deliver innovative technology that meets the needs of next generation wireless applications. With its well-established history in wireless systems and silicon design, the UK is an ideal location for the next phase in our growth.

Dr Mehul Mehta comments, “This is an exciting time for the wireless industry and Pharrowtech stood out to me as a company truly at the forefront of it. Pharrowtech’s team of experts has the potential to make some of the most advanced wireless solutions a reality, to benefit people everywhere. I’m delighted to be joining the company and to help lead this next period of expansion.”

Claudia Bastian adds, “Pharrowtech is a true pioneer in the wireless communications industry and creating a talented  team with  the best technical expertise will be crucial to our success. I’m looking forward to the challenge of identifying these individuals worldwide to accelerate the company’s growth.”

Those interested in receiving more information about open roles or applying, should visit:

YellowDog appoints ARM and computing veteran Noel Hurley as CEO.

YellowDog, which transforms how businesses access compute, welcomes Noel Hurley as its new CEO. The previous CEO, Simon Ponsford, becomes CTO (a position he previously held for five years) and will focus on technology roadmap, as YellowDog grows partnerships with hyperscalers and customers.

Noel joins YellowDog after many years as an executive at Arm, the microprocessor company. During his time there he held a number of VP and General Manager positions including the business segments team responsible for initiating Arm’s entry into the cloud market as well as running the CPU division and product teams. Noel also initiated and ran Arm’s internal incubation activity working closely with start-ups across a broad range of the deep tech markets. He was also a Co-founder of Bristol based fabless semiconductor company XMOS.

Noel commented: “I am very excited to join the YellowDog team. We want to make YellowDog the window into the world’s compute allowing businesses to better manage their compute investment. I see the YellowDog platform being the core tool for businesses to right size and manage their compute resources. It has the ability to provision and schedule workloads across on-prem clusters, public and private cloud at a scale and speed not seen before. This allows customers to be agile to the needs of the market whilst keeping costs under tight control.”

Simon was part of the YellowDog founding team and spent five years as CTO before taking the reins as CEO in 2020, driving both the commercial and technology roadmap of the business since then. He will now focus on the company’s technological innovation and building solutions to support compute management for customers. Noel’s arrival will enable the team to scale.

Simon commented: “We are excited to have Noel join YellowDog. The company has over the last year managed to prove its technology and demonstrate alongside our cloud partners the ability to create compute clusters at HPC scale. Noel will bring his commercial and strategic strengths to our business as we look to further scale the YellowDog business.”

YellowDog addresses the growing cloud and compute management market that is set to grow to $1.6bn (five-year CAGR 75%) by 2027. Using its cloud native compute workload management platform, the company can provision and schedule tasks on private or public cloud alongside existing on-premise infrastructure. To date, the Platform has been used by companies innovating in Life Sciences, Financial Services and Media and Entertainment.

YellowDog is unique in being able to provision over multiple geographies simultaneously and at speeds and scales that have not been achieved before. In July 2021 working alongside AWS YellowDog built a cluster of more than 3m vCPUs in less than an hour. This helped to make YellowDog one of only 16 companies that have achieved ‘HPC competency’ certification with AWS. This month at the ISC High Performance 2022 event in Hamburg YellowDog will be making further announcements in the field of confidential compute with our OEM and Cloud partners.

Pharrowtech raises €15 million Series A to develop world’s first viable wireless alternative.

Pharrowtech, a leader in the design and development of millimetre wave (mmWave) hardware and software for next-generation wireless applications, today announces its €15 million Series A funding round to continue developing next-generation 60 GHz wireless technology. 

The round was led by Innovation Industries, with participation from Bloc Ventures, imec.xpand and KBC Focus Fund. This will enable Pharrowtech to accelerate deployment of its recently launched 60 GHz CMOS Radio-Frequency Integrated Circuit (RFIC) PTR1060, and phased array antenna Radio-Frequency Module (RFM) PTM1060 for 5G unlicensed fixed wireless access, wireless infrastructure, and consumer applications. The capital will be used to ensure best in class customer support, expanding Pharrowtech’s operations in the United States, and growing its engineering and business teams to drive the product roadmap and fuel further growth.

Pharrowtech delivers a unique solution, offering gigabit-per-second speeds to consumers and businesses wirelessly. The 60 GHz frequency range is becoming increasingly important for applications such as remote working and learning, augmented and virtual reality, and entertainment and gaming, thanks to its greater capacity and lower latency. Increasingly, network operators are looking at outdoor Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solutions as the most effective and economical solution to deliver the required gigabit-per-second speeds link to consumers. In parallel, due to the increasing capabilities of 5G radio base stations, mobile operators are deploying millimetre wave solutions to meet the increasing demand of backhaul network architectures for macro and high-density small cell deployments.  

Wim Van Thillo, CEO and co-founder, Pharrowtech, says: “This year has started on a great note for Pharrowtech, and this investment is another significant milestone in our journey. Despite the challenges brought by a global pandemic, Pharrowtech was able to move rapidly from imec R&D Prototypes in 2019 to scaling up production of an exceptionally advanced 60 GHz RF solution by 2022. Our agility and capabilities have kept us ahead of the curve, delivering solutions that will shape the future of ubiquitous connectivity. We would like to thank our team, our investors, partners, and especially our customers for their faith in us. With the next phase of our growth underway, we are committed to providing RF solutions to multi-GHz links to enable low-cost infrastructure and consumer applications.”

David Leftley, CTO at Bloc Ventures, added: “60 GHz licence free spectrum is rapidly becoming the spectrum of choice where low latency and multi gigabit speeds are a requirement for infrastructure and CE wireless connectivity applications. Until now, cost and power consumption has been prohibitive to wide adoption. Pharrowtech is at the forefront of enabling this market, launching highly advanced low cost and low power CMOS RF semiconductor products. Core to the team’s latest innovation is leveraging bulk CMOS rather than more expensive and exotic fabrication processes such a SiGe. To do this is an outstanding achievement. The funding round is a testament to their expertise, execution and commitment, and we are delighted to be involved in this growth journey alongside them.”

Building on imec’s R&D and prototypes, Pharrowtech recently announced the availability of the PTR1060, the world’s first IEEE 802.11ay-compliant CMOS RF chip for indoor and outdoor wireless use cases that supports the full 57 to 71 GHz bandwidth. The company also launched PTM1060 (RFM) phased array antenna modules to provide OEM/ODMs with a ready-to-use 60 GHz solution. The integration levels, performance, and capabilities of Pharrowtech’s latest RFIC open the full potential of low-cost, small form factor and low-power FWA deployments, 5G and WiFi infrastructure backhauling, next-generation consumer electronics products, and IoT devices requiring high-speed links. The programming interfaces and tuneable features of the chip and antenna allow for optimal integration by equipment makers.

Both products are currently available to select customers and are already being designed-in by a tier-one US equipment vendor. The company is also providing demonstrations and evaluation kits to the consumers and will ramp up the production in Q3 2022.

We’re so excited to welcome Dr Alisa Molotova to the Bloc Ventures investment team. She is based in Cambridge and will help us discover new deep tech entrepreneurs looking for a specialist investor with Arm and computing as a core part of its DNA.

Alisa has been working in deep science and technology since studying genetics at University of Glasgow (placement as an engineer at GSK) and then completing her PhD (sponsored by Wellcome Trust) in Stem Cell Neuroscience at University of Cambridge, researching at the intersection of biology and physics.

Whilst studying, Alisa became Head of Commercial Strategy at a deep tech startup named Labstep, where she led their business development strategy on their mission to simplify and accelerate scientific discovery. Following her time at Labstep, Alisa moved into the investment world, looking for early-stage technology companies to back on behalf of the investment arm of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge Enterprise).

She focused primarily on Pre-seed and Seed stage investment opportunities, working on all stages of the investment process (including technical due diligence, legal negotiation and board governance), whilst building a strong network in the Cambridge ecosystem. She also organised and judged startup competitions, represented the University in raising a new social innovation fund and mentored underrepresented venture capital candidates to create a fairer and more diverse industry, through Diversity VC.

Alisa then joined Marshall Aerospace and Defence and their newly established in-house accelerator called Marshall Futureworx as a Business Development Executive. As part of the senior management team, she worked on strategic innovation projects and took the lead in developing business cases for investment into emerging technologies across space, air, land and sea for both civilian and military applications. Primarily she focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), sustainable aviation and energy management.

With experience in business building, world-leading academia, early-stage investing and corporate development, Alisa possesses skills and experience that are core the Bloc DNA and fundamental to the way we operate. Her role at Bloc will be to work alongside our research team to find deep tech investment opportunities and help us grow the Bloc portfolio as we scale.

Alisa commented: “It’s an exciting time for deep tech investing and an equally exciting time to be joining Bloc Ventures on their growth journey. I have always enjoyed working with technologists who are not content with the status quo, and I have found this determination to create change in the Bloc team and the entrepreneurs we back. I’m very excited to get started and start meeting some deep tech companies!”

Outside of her career, Alisa is a registered beekeeper, a keen photographer, long distance runner and speaks four languages. You can meet Alisa and the rest of the Bloc team on 19th May in Cambridge where we’ll be hosting an event titled ‘From PoC to IPO: the journey of a deep tech company’. Sign up here.

Join us on Thursday 19th May at The Bradfield Centre, Cambridge, from 6-9pm.


This event is designed to provide deep tech founders with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the journey ahead and meet investors or other entrepreneurs that might be able to support them on the way. Brought to you by Bloc VenturesSilicon Valley Bank and The Bradfield Centre.


– 6pm: Arrival and refreshments

– 6.30pm: Welcome from Bruce Beckloff, CEO at Bloc Ventures

– 6.40pm: Getting to Series A stage (Chaired by Dr Alisa Molotova)

Panellists: Miles Kirby (Deeptech Labs); Dr Elaine Loukes (Cambridge Enterprise); Rick Hao (Speedinvest); Dr Lee Thornton (IP Group)

– 7.20pm: Getting to Growth stage and beyond (Chaired by Michael Dimelow)

Panellists: Dr Manjari Chandran-Ramesh (Amadeus Capital); Simon King (Octopus Ventures); David Delfassy (Ahren Innovation Capital); Sonya Iovieno (Silicon Valley Bank); Pete Hutton (Cambridge Angels)

– 8pm: Refreshments and networking

– 9pm: Ends


Bloc Ventures is a deep tech investor with a team made up of technologists with experience building globally successful companies like ARM and Vodafone. Typically we invest at Seed to Series A stage in companies across Europe and Israel, focused on cloud, connectivity, data science and security. Our portfolio includes companies in AI, quantum computing and IoT security. Companies can pitch directly to the Bloc investment team.

Silicon Valley Bank. The Bank of Innovation Economy. Our mission is to increase the probability of our clients’ success, by helping innovators, enterprises, and their investors move bold ideas forward fast. We provide a full range of financial services to companies of all sizes in innovation centres around the world. Learn more about Silicon Valley Bank.

Helix Geospace raises £3m Seed funding led by Bloc Ventures to take its world-leading GPS antennas into mass production.

David Leftley, CTO and Co-founder of Bloc Ventures commented: “Over 10 billion devices make use of satellite GNSS signals for geolocation, from simple consumer location services to critical aerospace applications. But the challenge of reliable, resilient location in demanding environments remains the same. Helix has gone to the root of the problem, the antenna, with a design made possible by the company’s world leading advances in AI, applied to advanced 3D manufacturing of ceramics. The result is the highest signal sensitivity from the smallest physical size, and the lowest implementation complexity and cost for a GNSS receiver. We’re really excited to support the team as they begin scaling the company and developing the product alongside their initial customers.”

Helix Geospace, the leading innovator in antenna and RF (radio frequency) technology, is pleased to announce that it has raised £3m Seed funding in a round led by Bloc Ventures, and supported by the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund (UKI2S), managed by Midven, part of Future Planet Capital, and private investors including a group of sophisticated HNWI’s introduced by Tony Best, who’s background is in finance and high-end electronics manufacturing.

Helix builds precision antennas designed and manufactured to the highest specifications that enable GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) product designers to create the smallest, most accurate positioning, navigation and time synchronization products. PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) services delivered by satellite systems have become the lynchpin of global economies, with critical infrastructure, transportation, cyber-security and defence being dependent on them. These dependencies are vulnerable to the operating environments – busy cities and crowded RF spectra – and are under threat from malicious attack. Helix Geospace has invented and developed antenna technology that defends against these vulnerabilities and threats.

Helix’s patented DielectriX ™ antennas are targeted initially to receive PNT signals from GNSS (GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, Beidou) constellations, and the Satelles STL (Satellite Time and Location) signals delivered over the Iridium constellation as well as Iridium’s voice and data network. Future antenna variants will support LEO (low earth orbit) PNT services being planned and built by private companies as well as government agencies. Key capabilities of DielectriX antennas are their ability to discriminate true satellite signals from multi-path signals, interference and jamming, delivering high performance in a compact and rugged form factor. Helix’s customers include defence, automotive, aerospace and critical infrastructure sector companies.

To date, Helix has raised £5.5m investment from UKI2S and angel investors, and has participated in Wayra UK’s Intelligent Mobility Accelerator programme and Seraphim Capital’s Space Camp Mission 6. Helix has also received additional grant funding for advanced antenna development from the European Space Agency, and for anti-jamming/spoofing technology from UKI2S.

As a result of this funding round Helix CTO and DielectriX inventor, world-reknown GNSS antenna and receiver specialist Oliver Leistenwill be growing his talented team of RF engineers, and COO Nick Filler, who had led operations groups at Nokia and Jaguar Land Rover, will build Helix’s operations team to drive the manufacturing ramp-up.

James Lewis, CEO of Helix, who has founded and led a series of technology start-ups said: “We started manufacturing DielectriX antennas using state of the art laser/robotics equipment developed in-house, and we are now set to scale up rapidly through partnerships with electronics manufacturing service providers in the UK. Future manufacturing growth plans will roll out our ‘factory-in-a-box’ to deliver global capability required to meet the expected demands for autonomous vehicles and systems where absolute resilience and precision of location data is essential for safety.”

Andy Muir, Investment Director at UKI2S, added: “We are pleased to continue of our support of the UK space initiative at Harwell Campus through our investment in Helix. Their growth opportunity in the roll-out of highly resilient PNT is global, and they are well positioned to provide the ground-based capability for next generation UK or international satellite-based PNT constellations.”

Get in touch with Bloc

We’re always looking for entrepreneurs building companies like Shield-IoT. If you’d like to get in touch with our investment team, you can do so below.

We’re delighted to welcome Max Neuberger to the team, who joins Bloc as General Counsel, as we scale our operations to support fundraising and investment capacity.

Max joins Bloc as the fourth key hire of 2021, adding to a Head of Research, Head of Marketing and Finance Manager joining earlier in the year. Max’s role will be to manage legal, regulatory and company secretarial affairs as the company scales, help raise new capital to support deep tech entrepreneurs across Europe and Israel and drive the IPO readiness in anticipation of a 2023 entry to the public markets.

Max joins us from Virgin Group, where he spent eight years working across the group’s portfolio of assets, from large value corporate transactions involving well-known Virgin businesses, to incubating new Virgin businesses, to participating in venture and growth capital investments. Max studied Economics & Management at Oxford University, following which he side-stepped into law and qualified as a solicitor in the Corporate Division of Herbert Smith Freehills, a leading international law firm. He spent five years there advising clients on public and private M&A and company law matters, before moving to Virgin.

As General Counsel, Max will work across all legal elements of Bloc’s operations, including preparing the company as it considers a potential IPO, implementing financial regulatory processes as the company explores raising new forms of capital and overseeing the contractual arrangements with its portfolio companies through their lifecycles. This adds further strength to the firm’s leadership and management, following Andy Green CBE and Sue Prevezer QC’s appointments as Non-Executive Directors earlier in the year.

Max commented “I’m thrilled to join Bloc at this exciting stage, as it looks to raise and deploy significant amounts of venture capital and become a multi-stage investor across the European deep tech ecosystem. A small, ambitious, and hugely talented team is trying to achieve so much in a short space of time. Joining at this pivotal stage, supporting Bloc’s growth and that of its early-stage investment portfolio, is a challenge I’m relishing.”

In addition to Max, we’ve made three more key permanent hires in 2021. David Pollington joined as Head of Research, to support and supplement Bloc’s investment capabilities and understanding of key areas of innovation globally. Ryan Procter joined as Head of Marketing at the beginning of the year to support Bloc’s pipeline growth, investor relations and support portfolio companies as they scale outbound activity. Finally, Richard Yates joined as Finance Manager, taking over responsibility of accounts, future investment modelling and supporting portfolio companies on financial management.