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Meet Sebastian Hunte, UCLTF Investor

Meet UCLTF's newest Investor, Sebastian Hunte, and find out about his career in investment and technology transfer.

 

What's your background in, and what brought you to the world of technology transfer?

I did my undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science at McGill University, which was split between Computer Science and Neuroscience. During that time, I had my first exposure to the world of tech transfer when I started the first of the two startups that I have founded. The company was a collaboration with the Medical Faculty at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Barbados which focused on developing a drug pipeline and then licensing products built on UWI research related to Caribbean medicinal plants. I then went on and did a MSc in Computer Science at the University of Edinburgh, where I started my second startup – this time related to AI. Again, we partnered and worked closely with the university for consultancy contracts and commercial projects. For example, we worked on projects for the government collaboratively, and I developed a concept paper that outlined a scheme that would facilitate entrepreneurs from the Computer Science department at the University of the West Indies to get funding from outside sources – essentially, tech transfer. All of this is what brought me to tech transfer to begin with

What brought you to working at UCLTF?

I have always loved academic research; I played with the idea of doing a PhD, but I equally love entrepreneurship, having built my own companies. It’s quite hard to find a role that requires both a deep technical knowledge, but also a real ear for commercial applicability but UCLTF provides just that. In addition, UCL is a world-leading university, UCL Tech Fund is a leading deep tech fund, and AlbionVC has decades of premier fund management experience. The opportunity to work in a competitive space on behalf of sector leaders, operating at the cutting edge of technology, and helping to develop companies which can have lasting global impact, was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.

How do you see UCLTF changing the future?

I think that, in general, we could classify tech progress in terms of sequential and disruptive technology. Typically, from an investor perspective, investing in cutting edge R&D in isolation is a high-risk option. As a result, you tend to have a lot of entrepreneurs, businesses and investment, focusing on sequential tech progression, which is interesting as it drives economic value and changes lives, but I don’t think it always has the ability to change the world in the way that disruptive technology does. I think disruptive technology is where you end up with the most societal impact, and the best chance for huge returns. Finding a cluster of experts that are working synergistically in deep tech, and producing disruptive technology of that kind, is rare. It’s one of the values that a university of the calibre of UCL brings. UCL Tech Fund brings these worlds together and allows for the optimal development of disruptive technology; it therefore has massive potential to transform lives and lead to huge economic benefits.

What’s the best part of working in technology transfer and investment?

There are two major things: I love learning, and so with tech transfer, especially at UCL, you are speaking to world-leading experts in their fields about their area of expertise, so you’re constantly learning about interesting new technology, you’re constantly educating yourself about how that could change the current commercial realities, and that process of being in a constant state of learning is something that I love. On top of that, getting to work with people that are as passionate as they are about their areas, and have the drive and ambition that they do to change the world, is rare and it’s infectious. Being around that energy is something that I thrive on.

And, what’s the worst part?

I would say the worst part is the human element of it. At the end of the day, we make decisions based on an ability to create a return, and we are making choices based on our perception of whether a company has a good shot at becoming market leaders in the long term. In UCL Tech Fund, especially, it can be even worse because you are working with academics that have specialised and focused in an area for much of their lives. Dealing with the reality that something may be extremely interesting from a research perspective, yet it may not be right for UCL Tech Fund and having to tell them no despite their disappointment is challenging and is probably the least enjoyable part.

Are there any important lessons you have learnt throughout your career?

The most important lesson that I have learnt is being aware that you are not the smartest or most knowledgeable person in the room most of the time. However, you have your own strengths; back yourself with regards to these strengths, but be humble enough to realise that you don’t know everything, that there are people who are talking to you who are experts in different areas, and that you have the opportunity to learn and develop personally from them. Having worked in multiple different countries, it’s not just academic or technical knowledge that you learn, but cultural knowledge; understanding how different people work and interact with each other, and managing relationships, is such an important part of this job.

What advice would you give to academics and who are considering entering the technology transfer sector?

The best companies, and the best technologies, are created by people who both love and are intellectually obsessed with what they are doing; to have that passion within your founding team is necessary. Having said that, it is also essential to be able to put aside your obsession and take a step back to ask yourself, ‘where does this fit in the market and how will it grow?’ To do this requires being okay with failure, knowing that a lot of the time, you can have the best technology in the world, and you can be the smartest person in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a commercially viable product, and you can always try again. You will learn from the process of trying to understand whether a given project has commercial applicability, and that will only improve your ability to recognise that in future projects and products.

 
Sebastian Hunte