LifeArc Ventures Investment Principal, Chris Baker, reflects on the highlights from AUTM23

LifeArc Ventures Investment Principal Chris Baker joined LifeArc colleagues including AUTM Board member Anji Miller Ph.D CLP RTTP and Madhu (Vaadiyar) Madhusudhan at the AUTM23 meeting in Austin. Here, Chris gives his impressions of the world's biggest gathering of technology transfer professionals.

The AUTM conference was the first society/association event I’ve attended where diversity and inclusion were being addressed so effectively. Refreshingly, the conversation has progressed from simple numbers to people actively feeling empowered to progress to positions of influence.

The desire to do things quicker and share and learn from others to achieve this was the strongest drive across all sessions. Just as UK start-ups need a greater pool of guiding talent to step into or assist the C-suite, tech transfer needs to recruit, train and retain more professionals.

Look out for USIT (University Spin Out Investment Terms) originating from a discussion between seven Venture firms and six UK Universities, launching on April 24th. Don’t expect exact percentages for equity shareholdings etc, but hopefully will provide some clarity on the key terms to negotiate. Anything that reduces the fear of missing out, and improves the efficiency of agreement negotiation, is welcome.

Tech transfer wants to make a positive economic and societal impact locally, nationally and internationally. The relatively recent increase in numbers of Proof of Concept and Gap Funds was noticeable, as was the rise in interest in University-linked investment funds. It was clear that as they create ever larger entrepreneurial ecosystems, Universities or their funds are increasingly going to appear on the cap table as investors. It was also good to hear more universities are renting out spare capacity on their expensive research equipment to start-ups.

As for my session addressing “Novel approaches to Life Science investments: lessons learned” with Anji Madhu Mary Canning Omar Zahr Tony Hickson Madhu Miri here’s an anecdote I didn’t get to use.

My trip began on Sunday at the start-line of the Austin Marathon (just watching, but thanks to Austin Rowing Club for subsequently letting me train with them). Austin has ~18,000 runners and you could simply buy a slot if you wished. My local London Marathon has ~40,000 finishers, but ~400,000 applicants. You can increase your chances of getting in by running for a Foundation/Charity with reserved places. Some also provide a network of people who go through the same training, help with fundraising, provide access to coaching and dieticians, offer support around the course, and to celebrate and recover at the end.

Similarly, I’m convinced Venture Funds like ours that are linked to Foundations/Charities can bring significantly more support and expertise in addition to their investment to a start-up, meaning a greater chance of successfully getting from start to finish, and wanting to do it all over again.