The Enterprise Sessions: Episode 1 – Resilience in Deep Tech with Harry Destecroix

 

Welcome to the Enterprise Sessions

How do you launch a new business without the necessary infrastructure to support it? If you’re Dr Harry Destecroix you build it yourself. Professor Michele Barbour sits down with the Science Creates Founder to talk about the remarkable success of an ecosystem that combines specialist incubator facilities, a network of strategic partners and a dedicated venture capital fund – and aims to make Bristol a global centre for deep tech.

 

Highlights

  • Harry describes his unconventional career journey from University of Bristol PhD student to CEO.
  • Hear about Ziylo, Harry’s initial venture – including securing funding, the role of incubators, technology licensing and the acquisition by pharma giant Novo Nordisk.
  • Harry outlines his approach to building balanced and effective multidisciplinary teams that nurture talent and embrace and emphasise diverse strengths.
  • Get Harry’s take on the entrepreneurial mindset and the importance of taking risks, making mistakes and learning from setbacks.


🌐 About the Enterprise Sessions

The Enterprise Sessions bring together a diverse mix of company founders and researchers who talk openly about their personal experiences of forming spin-outs and start-ups, raising capital, academic-industry partnerships and the joys of translating research discoveries into real-world impact.

The series aims to inform, inspire and challenge myths and stereotypes about research commercialisation and how businesses and universities can work together to tackle society’s biggest challenges.

 

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Transcript:

 

 

00:00:00 Prof Michele Barbour 

Welcome to the Enterprise sessions. Today I’m talking to Doctor Harry Destecroix. Harry’s been a PhD student turned academic turned founder and now turned venture capitalist. 

00:00:10 Prof Michele Barbour 

Harry, welcome. I’m really grateful that you found the time to talk to me. 

00:00:12 Harry Destecroix 

Thank you very much for having me, Michele. 

00:00:13 Prof Michele Barbour 

So where I’d like to start is, I mean, you’re pretty well known, a lot of people will have an idea of of who you are, what you do now. But let’s rewind what’s brought you to Bristol. What was your background before, before your time at the university? 

00:00:29 Harry Destecroix 

So what brought me to Bristol? 

00:00:32 Harry Destecroix 

I I had done. I did my undergraduate Plymouth University in applied chemistry and then. 

00:00:41 Harry Destecroix 

I couldn’t really get a job. I think it’s a running theme in my life actually, and I ended, I ended up. 

00:00:49 Harry Destecroix 

Ended up after I I didn’t have a kind of a year out before university, so I thought I’d do a a year out and I’d kind of decided I wanted to learn to snowboard so I ended. I ended up doing a a ski season in in, in Morzine and. 

00:01:02 Harry Destecroix 

And then after that I worked in restaurants a lot and I thought maybe I should try and get jobs. So I decided to go to Canada. I thought maybe I’ll be able to get a job there. I went to Canada for for the Winter Olympics, hoping to get a job in chemistry. Couldn’t get a job in chemistry, so ended up being a cleaner at the Olympic Stadium and doing all sorts. And then I said. 

00:01:20 Harry Destecroix 

To myself, it’s been 2 years since you’ve had. 

00:01:22 Harry Destecroix 

You got your degree. You know, you probably need to maybe go back and and and and continue. So I decided to apply to Bristol to Masters of Research program. I always loved the kind of practical nature. 

00:01:37 Harry Destecroix 

Of of of. 

00:01:39 Harry Destecroix 

Of lab work and of research and and got accepted into Professor Tony Davis’s group. And yeah, flew back from from Canada, came to Bristol, had kind of a week before I started, found some accommodation and yeah, started in in Tony’s Tony’s research group. So that’s that’s how I. 

00:01:59 Harry Destecroix 

How I came to Bristol really because I’ve a string of failures not being able to. 

00:02:03 Prof Michele Barbour 

Get jobs to find failure. 

00:02:06 Prof Michele Barbour 

So I mean, Tony Davis, a really, really successful influential academic at the university for several decades. 

00:02:12 Prof Michele Barbour 

But I think I’m right in saying he’s never had a spin out. 

00:02:15 Prof Michele Barbour 

Company before he’s done great chemistry for many years. Then you come along and there’s this sudden burst of entrepreneurship. Was that the project and the work had reached a stage where it was ready and you were there at the right time? Or is that something particular you brought that caused that? 

00:02:33 Prof Michele Barbour 

Change in direction for that work. 

00:02:36 Harry Destecroix 

I think it was a bit of both to be honest. I think first of all, I think Tony was like really, you know, really entrepreneurial on it like we had a great relationship. We would always be kind of thinking of ideas and how to use the technology. And Tony had been researching for two decades like how can we use chemistry to kind of recreate and mimic nature. So what we were trying to do in. 

00:02:56 Harry Destecroix 

In in 23 research group and what he had been studying and pioneered, this field was like can we make? 

00:03:03 Harry Destecroix 

Can we can we make artificial receptors that combine to sugar and and most of the stuff we find in industry is is, is is derived from nature. So actually some of the first ever biosensors were were glucose sensors. I think as the 1970s we made the first ever wide enzyme electrodes which which which monitor. 

00:03:24 Harry Destecroix 

Blood glucose levels for for millions of diabetics, it’s been a really important test. I think blood glucose is the number one blood test on planet Earth, so that technology hadn’t evolved for like, you know, 4 decades. 

00:03:37 Harry Destecroix 

And I think Tony had been trying to use supramolecular chemistry, which is where we rather than a lot of chemistry, we make small things that that bind to big things of biology and we’re trying to block it and either turn on. 

00:03:49 Harry Destecroix 

And off drugs. And whereas we were trying to make big things that bind to small things. And yeah, after two decades Tony made. 

00:03:57 Harry Destecroix 

One of the world’s, or Tony’s, a postdoc in Tony’s group called Chen Fan, made one of the. 

00:04:04 Harry Destecroix 

Most simple and best synthetic receptors for glucose, the world scene, and we published that in, in, in nature chemistry in 2012. So I joined the research group, I think in 2000. 

00:04:17 Harry Destecroix 

And 10 in. 

00:04:19 Harry Destecroix 

So I came along just as things started to work, so it was a hell of a lot of luck. 

00:04:25 Harry Destecroix 

My side that you know, I think you need both. You need someone there to say. Look, let’s try and set a company up, but you also need kind of an enormous sprinkling of luck to be there at the right time in the right place. So it was, yeah, incredibly lucky timing that I joined Tony’s group. 

00:04:42 Harry Destecroix 

And after 20 years, things started to work and I then, you know, decided to spin out a company which Tony was very supportive of doing it. You know, it’s hugely behind it and so were the university. 

00:04:56 Prof Michele Barbour 

So before we get on to the Silo story, which I’m looking forward to exploring, you’ve already alluded to the fact that. 

00:05:02 Prof Michele Barbour 

Quite a few young people take a gap year before university, but you took sort of by necessity too, after your degree. 

00:05:11 Prof Michele Barbour 

What was it like coming back into that educational research environments after a couple of years of, you know, various different sort of short term jobs? Was it a relief to get back into that more structured environment or was? 

00:05:23 Prof Michele Barbour 

It was it challenging. 

00:05:24 Harry Destecroix 

Well, I think one of the best things about doing a PhD is how unstructured it is actually. So. So I think I think it wasn’t very structured and I and I I really enjoyed that and it was just great to be learning. Again, I felt, you know, frustrated that you know it, it was great fun kind of travelling and and and doing all these things. But it I felt frustrated that I wasn’t kind of achieving. 

00:05:45 Harry Destecroix 

You know what I set out to achieve? I’d worked very hard kind of to get my my undergraduate degree and you know, I wanted to kind of continue that kind of love of science and and and and and and continue it. So I was really excited to to get back and and learn and be in like a really stimulating environment and that’s exactly what you know what? 

00:06:04 Harry Destecroix 

Tony’s group. 

00:06:07 Prof Michele Barbour 

Was there any points in in seeing the sort of increasing commercial dimension of your work that you thought about actually leaving before you completed your PhD with the part of you that was impatient to get on with the more commercial aspect of it all by that time? Were you so committed to the idea of that that doctorate? 

00:06:26 Harry Destecroix 

I think you know, I think I learned. 

00:06:29 Harry Destecroix 

I was just. I was more. I’ve always been more interested in the knowledge part and like just selfishly, I want to understand how the world works. So going back a few steps, you know, that’s what I was always like as a child. I was. I was a nightmare. I kind of set the House on fire at three I, you know, would take everything to pieces and then not be able to put it back back together again. So, you know, doing a. 

00:06:50 Harry Destecroix 

The PhD in chemistry was about understanding how things worked and putting stuff together and building, so I really enjoyed that aspect of building and making things and testing things. So and it’s a really safe environment for kind of experimenting and learning. Learning about these new things so. 

00:06:53 Prof Michele Barbour 

Putting stuff together, speaking as well. 

00:07:07 Harry Destecroix 

It just was natural that, you know, we’ve made this thing. Let’s try and get it to work and and the next part of that was, you know, part of getting things to work and have kind of applications so. So we can, you know, society can benefit from them is like, you know, we need more funding, we need more talent, we need more resources. We need to now make fiber optic sensors. 

00:07:27 Harry Destecroix 

You need to, you know, find people who understand insulin. We need to kind of find all these. 

00:07:31 Harry Destecroix 

Other people and. 

00:07:32 Harry Destecroix 

That part of the vehicle of bringing together that focus and that knowledge around the discovery discovery is, is is, you know, the formation of a spin out company in certain instances and in this instance, I think that was that was the right thing. 

00:07:47 Harry Destecroix 

In terms of the PhD though, like I used, the PhD was effectively the incubation plan. Like my thesis. If you read my thesis it you know, I compared all the pre-existing technologies, enzymes, boronic acid. These other tools that we’ve got to make glucose, glucose senses or glucose responsive insulins. 

00:08:07 Harry Destecroix 

So I used that PhD as a framework, so my PhD was very different to PhD thesis as before. I was very adamant that I would do write write it in the way that I saw fit. That was useful. So I ended up kind of comparing that all the pre-existing technologies and then that. 

00:08:25 Harry Destecroix 

Made me think about my research and maybe in a more applied way as to how could this be useful to society and I was super excited to kind of continue that journey with the technology and try and see it through to something that could be useful. 

00:08:40 Prof Michele Barbour 

So what was that first step then? As it started to sort of emerge that, yes, this was a spin out opportunity. Was that pitching for investment, was that public funding? What what was sort of what opened the door to the commercial proposition? 

00:08:51 Harry Destecroix 

I think we’ve all things it was. 

00:08:54 Harry Destecroix 

One step at a time. So I think rather than I think if you think about all the things that need to go right in order for it to work, I think you would quit on day one. I think it’s a question of if you have that mindset, I’m just going to do this because it’s fun and I’m enjoying it and I’m learning, which I think was what you universities. 

00:09:14 Harry Destecroix 

Taught us just to do things just for the journey and and what we might get out of. 

00:09:18 Harry Destecroix 

And it was then just a right, well, break it down into the different steps of how you form a spin out company. So in this case, it was right. Well, I can’t raise any funding until I’ve got a license to the the IP. So then when it spoke to the tech transfer office and we went into negotiations around, you know. 

00:09:37 Harry Destecroix 

Would we license the IP? 

00:09:39 Harry Destecroix 

And then they were supportive and they pointed us towards the IQ program, which that’s How I Met you actually on 0. 

00:09:46 Harry Destecroix 

UM, so so it was a. It was just a what do we need to do next and not worrying too much about what we need to do in the future? Anything that’s always been my approach to problems is, you know, there’s always kind of a critical path and you focus on that critical path and you just focus on the steps you’ve got to do. 

00:10:06 Harry Destecroix 

In the next kind of six months or 12 months, which, if you don’t do, there’s no point worrying about steps EDF or whatever, because if you don’t do steps AB and C, then it’s pointless. So trying to kind of you have kind of in one view, you have a view on what the path could be. So you know kind of the course that you’re going in. 

00:10:18 Prof Michele Barbour 

You never get that far. 

00:10:26 Harry Destecroix 

You focus on the kind of the, the steps that you need to address now in the short term and solving those. So it was kind of I don’t need to worry about exactly. 

00:10:35 Harry Destecroix 

What the plan is? 

00:10:36 Harry Destecroix 

To FI just need to worry about getting to see. 

00:10:40 Harry Destecroix 

And then along the way, I need to learn the things I need to learn so you know, buying books on how to set up a liberty company, reading up on what licensing agreements were so wonderful thing with the with the Internet is that you can just Google everything. And I think now with AI, it’s got, you know, that one step, you know, in terms of our personal choices. 

00:11:00 Harry Destecroix 

Things that we can use now it’s it’s it’s incredible. So it was very much I want to do this. It’s probably going to fail. That’s fine. 

00:11:08 Harry Destecroix 

But it will be interesting in trying and and yeah, ended up. First of all could we could we do the licence and the the TA gave us advice yes we may be able to give you a license but you’re going to show us a business plan and you can do this and then it was you know well let’s try and apply for kind of the IQ program got on to that. 

00:11:27 Harry Destecroix 

So it was a lot of small steps and small wins. It slowly kind of built up and then learning. 

00:11:34 Harry Destecroix 

As you went along, really. 

00:11:36 Prof Michele Barbour 

And I’m interested in that learning process because I think at this stage clearly a very entrepreneurial PhD graduates, but nevertheless, most of your education has been in science. You’ve talked about watching YouTube videos and and reading. Was that your main way of acquiring these new skills you needed? Did you also find strength in the sort of the the? 

00:11:56 Prof Michele Barbour 

Networks in the city with their people that were influential in helping you develop certain skills. Or did you kind of get your head down and do it on your own? 

00:12:04 Harry Destecroix 

I think I’ve already been like quite belligerent and like headstrong and kind of. And I think in the early days there’s there’s a magic in that kind of approach to entrepreneurship. Because I think if you sort of knew too much, you’d be overwhelmed at the start. So there’s, like, there’s a magic in there’s, there’s a real magic in kind of young entrepreneurs who. 

00:12:25 Harry Destecroix 

Kind of. They go against the grain and they do things that everybody say would fail and you know, I look back and think it was kind of a string of kind of things that had to work in a certain order to to, to deliver what everybody’s working on today. So I think, you know, there’s, you know, there’s a lot to it in that. 

00:12:42 Harry Destecroix 

Right. 

00:12:43 Prof Michele Barbour 

You’ve you’ve painted this as quite like a humble beginning to this company and I guess maybe most companies have a fairly humble beginning. If there’s not, yeah, huge personal wealth behind it for the benefit of people listening to this, that have that don’t know the silo story, why don’t you sum up that story for us? So what what happened? 

00:13:03 Prof Michele Barbour 

After that initial sort of IQ program. 

00:13:07 Harry Destecroix 

So yeah, we spun. So there was there was three Co founders on the initial company, so it was myself, Tom who was my flatmate and who had gone to to, you know had had had known from back home and met in Bristol. He was an actor and he was, you know very good with you know. 

00:13:28 Harry Destecroix 

Writing and math, and I’m actually severely dyslexic, so I really need a. 

00:13:32 Harry Destecroix 

Lot a big. 

00:13:33 Harry Destecroix 

Support network around me in order for everything to have happened. 

00:13:37 Harry Destecroix 

And and then Tony, obviously, you know, his his research, I was sort of just there at the right time and then you know, we set the company up in 2014 and then we we met Keith, who ended up being our chair who who knew now he’s as the chairman of the incubators as well now. And Keith provided a very. 

00:13:57 Harry Destecroix 

Initial investment. I Remember Me and Tom kind of being given a £5000 cheque from Keith that you posted from Ireland and. 

00:14:06 Harry Destecroix 

You know, taken that cheque to Barclays and I’ve never seen a cheque with 5000 lbs written on it. So it was like we were really like it was a crazy amount of money at that that point. So it started, it started, it started with a £5000 check from from from Keith. And then we ended up getting onto the IQ program. 

00:14:25 Harry Destecroix 

And we ended up, you know, licensing the technology from the university, that program we we ended up being awarded half 1,000,000 LB grant from that program, which was enormous. We then raised a small we had raised a small Angel round of a couple of. 

00:14:41 Harry Destecroix 

  1. Uhm, and then one of the things that we did along the story, which is where things get a bit better, is, uhm, in 2015, a year after founding, Xylo founded the second company, which was one of the problems we had when we spun the company out. Was where do we put it?

00:15:03 Harry Destecroix 

Where’s our where’s you know, where’s home? And at the time, there was no space in in Bristol. I mean, you, you faced this as well and we decided to set up a second company and build a Bristol deep tech biotech incubator in the city centre. And that ended up being the first of the science creates incubators. So we built our own. 

00:15:22 Harry Destecroix 

We ended up building our own incubator for our own startup. 

00:15:25 Prof Michele Barbour 

Because when startup wasn’t enough, you know you needed more excitement in. 

00:15:28 Harry Destecroix 

Your life. Yeah. And you can there’s like. 

00:15:30 Prof Michele Barbour 

See there? But there was a need. It’s really, really clear at that time. There was you. There was me. There was a bunch of other people who were all banging their heads against same brick walls trying to sublet space in, you know, industrial parks. There was no community or there was a community, but it was all hidden and dispersed. 

00:15:44 Prof Michele Barbour 

Yeah. So you founded what was then. 

00:15:45 Harry Destecroix 

Unity X, right? What was unity X? And then it ended up that ended up being science creates kind of first incubated. So we and then so I was running the xylo and we xylo was so we had this glucose sensing technology and we thought we could make sensors initially and continuous senses for to to monitor blood sugar. 

00:16:03 Harry Destecroix 

And then we ended up pivoting towards smart insulins. We opened the first incubator in 2017, which was a crazy project. I attribute kind. 

00:16:16 Harry Destecroix 

Running the incubator and building the incubator with with, you know, working with architects and planners was a massive part of the learning of my entrepreneurial journey because I learned to like Project manage, I learned how to deliver. Complexity was like not to do everything yourself, to try and understand it. But then you, you know, you need electrical and engineers. 

00:16:36 Harry Destecroix 

Mechanical Engineers, architects, builders. You know, all these different people in order to deliver a whole building. So we moved xylo in to the first incubator. 

00:16:47 Harry Destecroix 

And then we actually ended up licensing in some second load of IP from the University of Bristol around a similar time. And actually there was a big breakthrough that happened in Tony’s group. So we, we we ended up employing kind of the PhD student and then. 

00:17:07 Harry Destecroix 

Graduate from the group to Thomas Trumans to. 

00:17:14 Harry Destecroix 

Into the company with this new second of IP and then a year later we’re required by name and audit. So it was a really crazy story. There was ten of us. We’d raised less than our million of equity in in four years. We’ve kind of built silo, built an incubator and then ended up being acquired. 

00:17:34 Harry Destecroix 

My in Nova Nordisk in yeah in 2018 which is. 

00:17:39 Harry Destecroix 

Completely unexpected and not not really part of the plan and and then I kind of yeah, it ended ended up spinning out a new company from Zilo. 

00:17:48 Prof Michele Barbour 

Just just before you move on, you’re acquired for. Can you remind us how? 

00:17:52 Harry Destecroix 

Much up to $800 million. Yeah, but it was it was. It’s a staged acquisition. So. So I think that I think often gets often often often gets misquoted. 

00:17:58 Prof Michele Barbour 

I I realized that I just needed to get that number out there. 

00:18:04 Prof Michele Barbour 

It’s nevertheless area vast some we need to we need to acknowledge that that I remember that week vividly. It was August, as I recall. Yeah, because every corridor I walked down, whether it was at my spin out or in the university people were sidle up to me and say, when are you going to do that? I must have been asked at least a dozen times in the first few days. 

00:18:21 Harry Destecroix 

It it was, it was a. It was a crazy. It was a crazy moment in time and like going back a few steps, you know, like I’d set. 

00:18:30 Harry Destecroix 

You know, one of one of one of the challenges kind of going into that. 

00:18:35 Harry Destecroix 

At university was that I had very little money, so you know, during, during, during my PhD, I had a period where I didn’t have funding and I was working kind of at Pizza Express at Supper Park Street and it was a period where I worked. I think I didn’t have a day off in, in, in six months. It was quite a stressful period in my life and I really remember that. 

00:18:57 Harry Destecroix 

And like Tony, help me. Like write a grant and get funded and then. 

00:19:00 Harry Destecroix 

And and and then just before I set up silo and I’d run out of funding again and I was at this crossroads where I said, look, you can either kind of go back to PHP Pizza Express and write your PhD up or you can kind of put everything on credit cards and try and do a spin out so Fast forward then four years to be in this position. 

00:19:21 Harry Destecroix 

It was just, it was really weird for for that to have happened and we were so focused on, you know, building incubators and and, uh, you know, building design, they was been a fantastic team and you know, it was a real, it was a real kind of, you know, I never thought it would actually work. 

00:19:39 Harry Destecroix 

I think that was the that was, you know, I never went. 

00:19:42 Harry Destecroix 

Into this sort of. 

00:19:42 Prof Michele Barbour 

You look like you still can’t. Can’t quite believe that it has. 

00:19:44 Harry Destecroix 

I think I think it’s it’s been it and I think I think you know, I think there’s been an enormous amount of luck involved, but then processing that information you know over. 

00:19:55 Harry Destecroix 

It’s it’s it’s been, it’s been interesting and from that you know I think. 

00:20:00 Harry Destecroix 

That, that, that piece of initial luck that, that, that, that I’ve had, we’ve tried to kind of collectively that, you know, all of the people behind zilo. So there is a lot of people I’m missing out here. You know, people that have built incubators in the company. So I’ve just sort of been the chief mascot that ends up take somehow taking all the credit for everything. 

00:20:20 Harry Destecroix 

But you know that collective kind of knowledge and all those amazing people that make up our team think it’s 22 people that work across incubators and ventures now and plus all of our network, plus all of the startups, you know, really trying to take. 

00:20:35 Harry Destecroix 

Some of that, you know, money, some of that kind of knowledge and and recycle it back into kind of Bristol and the UK to try and kind of get more companies to to either form and spin out more scientists to make jump because I don’t think there’s anything special about about me. 

00:20:54 Harry Destecroix 

I think there’s been a group of amazing people that have got together, who have been motivated around kind of healthcare challenges and environmental challenges and and see that part of the reason that we we end up going into academia and wanting to study science and wanting to do these things is. 

00:21:13 Harry Destecroix 

You know, we want to change the world and and that’s because the world’s, like, riddled with problems. You know, I think Healthcare is a poll. Then I think, you know, most of us are living with chronic disease like like I think something like 95. 

00:21:27 Harry Destecroix 

Percent of all. 

00:21:28 Harry Destecroix 

Illnesses like have no treatment, let alone any cure. It’s like, you know. 

00:21:32 Harry Destecroix 

Earth is like really heating up at the moment and you know, we can’t just sit on our hands and pretend that you know, these solutions are going to appear. It takes real hard work and people wanting to translate research and wanting to make a difference. So I think that journey of kind. 

00:21:53 Harry Destecroix 

You know, going from kind of going through all those different steps and meeting all these amazing people along the way made me realise that so many other people could be doing this. It’s, you know, it’s about kind of demystifying it and and stories are powerful, right. And I think one of the reasons we decided to make to release it was was to try and. 

00:22:14 Harry Destecroix 

And hopefully say look, others can do this. You know there’s nothing special about us. It’s it’s just more about, you know, you need the research, you need the spaces to do it and you need the investment to make it happen. And that’s what we’ve kind of bundled together in science create. 

00:22:31 Prof Michele Barbour 

You obviously place huge importance on on the team, on the people all working together and I think I’m right in saying that you’ve actually built several teams in the various steps of the career that you’ve highlighted. So what’s your approach to to formulating a team that can really deliver on on some of these big challenges? 

00:22:50 Harry Destecroix 

Just hire people that are smarter than you and get out that way. I think you know, it’s the, it’s the the general thing that I think often you see within. 

00:23:01 Harry Destecroix 

Companies, you know that person who’s like really performing, kind of like they always get held back because their boss, you know, I mean like doesn’t want to be. 

00:23:09 Harry Destecroix 

Embarrassed and that kind of was that saying where you kind of people get kind of like promoted to the point of their, you know, internal competence so you know trying to kind of when you spot that talent like nurture it and mentor it and encourage it. 

00:23:15 Prof Michele Barbour 

And comfort, yeah. 

00:23:22 Harry Destecroix 

And they think like a lot of the job is just just just really to try and get the best out of people. And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve also done that. I’m, you know, I’m. 

00:23:34 Harry Destecroix 

I’m I’m messy, I’m disorganised and you know I need people who are organised and structured and around me in order for that to work. So I think it’s about whatever kind of flavour you are kind of in terms of your own, like neurodiversity or your own psychology. It’s about having balance within teams and trying to kind of get kind of that blend of extroverts and introverts and. 

00:23:58 Harry Destecroix 

And people who think like, narrowly and and are really structured and people who are like all over the place and connecting all the dots like, you know, we need to try and bring all that into teams. So you’ve got kind of people feel like they’re kind of responsible. I see. I I kind of like thinking about having kind of the people in the different quadrants together in teams. And that gives you kind of a real. 

00:24:19 Harry Destecroix 

Edge in a start up in terms of being able to kind of see things from different angles. 

00:24:24 Prof Michele Barbour 

I mean, I think that gives you an edge in whatever industry startups, academia beyond. But I do think it’s a recruitment challenge because you talk about finding really smart people and not holding them back. But then if also if we’re thinking about extroverts and introverts and and different ways of living and being. 

00:24:39 Prof Michele Barbour 

It’s much easier, but some people make that much more visible than others. Some people you have to work harder or know them better to see that brilliance. 

00:24:49 Prof Michele Barbour 

And if you’re going for 1/2 hour interview, you’re not going to get to the same. 

00:24:53 Prof Michele Barbour 

Point with everybody. 

00:24:54 Prof Michele Barbour 

So do you have a method you use to make sure you clearly value inclusivity in your teams? How do you achieve that? 

00:25:03 Harry Destecroix 

There’s, you know, so a lot of there’s a lot of people within the team that take the recruitment process very, very seriously. So I think it’s about getting the team buying and and getting everybody in. So we we have kind of blinded recruitment processes where we kind of remove kind of names and universities and things like that to try and. 

00:25:22 Harry Destecroix 

Make sure that we’re not. 

00:25:25 Harry Destecroix 

Being overly biased towards people coming in and I think now through kind of getting it wrong and getting it right, you start to build up kind of an understanding of those people. And I think you know, you know, you get people who, depending on the role it it sometimes will require certain kind of behavioral traits that you. 

00:25:46 Harry Destecroix 

That you’re looking for and I think for me it’s been kind of the power of introverts. I think those are the ones that are often. 

00:25:53 Harry Destecroix 

Kind of overlooked. 

00:25:55 Harry Destecroix 

And and you know how. 

00:25:57 Harry Destecroix 

How how reliable and like how brilliant they can be and kind of though. So it’s learning just how to motivate different types of people. And then in terms of like how you get them in, it’s a lot of luck. I have a kind of a thing where I love, you know, I’ve really love to bringing in talented postdocs. 

00:26:16 Harry Destecroix 

I believe that kind of. 

00:26:18 Harry Destecroix 

The UK has some amazing researchers, and academia is incredibly and increasingly difficult to break into as a professor, as as you know and and therefore, you know, taking some of that talent and and pulling it through into kind of some of our organizations being a really good strategy, so. 

00:26:41 Harry Destecroix 

Many of the team have have pH D’s and postdocs. 

00:26:46 Harry Destecroix 

On my main job now obviously is is is centered around raising investment funds and investing in kind of the next generation of entrepreneurs and the next, you know, wave of deep technology companies across healthcare and climate. And you know, having that technical training but also having that creativity. 

00:27:06 Harry Destecroix 

That you get from research where I suppose one of the things is is in the real world, there’s no mark schemes and and. 

00:27:15 Harry Destecroix 

You know, there is you. You can just do whatever you want. And a lot of people feel like there’s, like, fixed paths here. There are everywhere, but the reality is, like, you know, entrepreneurship is, like, hugely creative. You just be like, I want to do that. So I create a narrative and the story, you know, and all finance is just securitization and leverage and storytelling. 

00:27:36 Harry Destecroix 

So like you know, you can. It’s very powerful when you know how to build companies and go after different different, different ideas. So you know so. So there’s a there’s a lot that you can you can end up. 

00:27:49 Harry Destecroix 

Doing in this kind of domain, so having a doing a research I wasn’t very good on the whole talk kind of memory test smart scheme thing. I was better at kind of coming up with ideas or just trying to understand how things worked and explaining it in my own way and. 

00:28:10 Harry Destecroix 

Doing a research kind of degree so so, so so a PhD. 

00:28:16 Harry Destecroix 

There’s just a viver at the end, and you write your own thesis. You know, I didn’t have to do an exam in terms of like a a written marked exam, it was just here’s your work and your your your grade and you might write a paper and and that was great because it teaches you to write grants and come up with project ideas and like. 

00:28:35 Harry Destecroix 

Really go into the unknown and prove theses and yet a lot of entrepreneurship is that so I believe that a lot of the skill sets you get doing PHD’s and doing postdocs are really transferable to to kind of entrepreneurship. 

00:28:50 Harry Destecroix 

Especially within the deep technology kind of sector because it teaches you to kind of think independently, like drive your own projects kind of be able to present complex ideas and and like I feel like postdocs are incredibly underpaid and underutilized in the UK and and hugely kind of trollen. So I I believe like. 

00:29:10 Harry Destecroix 

You know, there are kind of a a real. 

00:29:16 Harry Destecroix 

I don’t know. I I think that kind of some of the most they have some of the most amount of potential to be given to society. And I think the framework and the systems around them, especially in the UK, if you happen to do your postdoc or PhD at the university, that’s not entrepreneurial it it’s quite hard to break into these these different areas so. 

00:29:35 Harry Destecroix 

One of the things we built in Bristol was kind of hopefully I think it’s 350 jobs now across across the across the kind of two incubators. 

00:29:45 Harry Destecroix 

You know, we provided a lot of jobs for kind of some really, really amazing researchers, and that’s why it works in Bristol, so that this body of just incredibly bright, hard working, motivated individuals. 

00:29:58 Prof Michele Barbour 

Yeah, we do. And I think it’s so important for all of the people you’ve described and at earlier stage their career as well. 

00:30:05 Prof Michele Barbour 

Just have their their eyes open and their horizons broad in terms of the possibilities. It saddens me sometimes to talk to early career researchers, PhD Students, Research Associates, who who think that it’s kind of academia as to Pinnacle and anything else is a compromise. And that’s so untrue. There’s so many amazing parts you can tread and it’s gotta be the right one for. 

00:30:21 Prof Michele Barbour 

But some of the career pathways you’ve provided and and others besides are enormously rewarding. And what I would love to see and what’s pipe dream of mine is how we take the people you’ve referred to, who’ve gone and spent some years working in the sorts of organizations and companies you support. And then we bring them back into the academic Fort or let them have a foot in each camp. 

00:30:43 Prof Michele Barbour 

And that all of the environments benefit from those extraordinary skills. So for our walls to. 

00:30:48 Prof Michele Barbour 

More porous and more welcoming and respecting of those girls. 

00:30:52 Harry Destecroix 

100% I think all great ideas come at the interface interface between subjects, you know, let’s say innovation is where ideas have sex. This, this, this, this idea that, you know, it’s the edges of physics and biology and it and it’s kind of when people kind of get these kind of viewpoints from different from different kind of vantage points. 

00:31:14 Harry Destecroix 

So there’s a viewpoint you get when you’re in academia and there’s a viewpoint you get as an entrepreneur as a viewpoint when you build buildings and there’s so I think it’s where you piece them all together and you see a ton of opportunities in. 

00:31:24 Harry Destecroix 

Tracks. So it’s really, really important for people to be multidisciplinary because I think if you can then go back into academia, you can maybe drive something that’s novel and new, and that’s what we’re trying to do, right? We’re trying to kind of come up with new ideas and and improve society. And so yeah, it it’s really important that. 

00:31:45 Harry Destecroix 

We get kind of. 

00:31:48 Harry Destecroix 

You know, there’s a porous membrane between between the two. I think imperial were doing this really well, you know, kind of like how White City is kind of slap banging when there’s research and startups. And I think startups and that startup ecosystem is a natural kind of halfway house between kind of big companies and and academia. 

00:32:07 Prof Michele Barbour 

Well, and things very much along the lines. What we hope to what we plan to achieve a temper quarter but absolutely. So we’ve talked quite a bit about about solo and about the incubators. John said a bit more about science projects, ventures. So what what gave rise to it? If it’s not obvious and and what you hope to achieve what’s your vision so. 

00:32:28 Harry Destecroix 

The vision is, you know, so says the mission is that we want to improve healthcare, quality of life and the environment. And we believe that science and research is a huge untapped potential in the UK to do more in terms of how it benefits society, how we get technology through to the. 

00:32:44 Harry Destecroix 

Public and we have a three pronged approach to. 

00:32:49 Harry Destecroix 

That is, you need somewhere to do it, so that’s the incubate it you need if you wanna do research, you know where do I do my research? You know, where do I film? It’s usually in shed somewhere in Bristol and then, you know, we need people who’ve done it before, who are doing it. And that’s the community that is kind of the ecosystem as 350 people. 

00:33:10 Harry Destecroix 

And have worked at these companies plus partners, plus academics. So there’s a kind of collective kind of knowledge on kind of how to, you know, create some of these really hard to get. 

00:33:20 Harry Destecroix 

Bills. And then of course, you know, they need to raise money and and venture capital is is a an important type of investment vehicle. And what we do is we we we make lots of very high risk investments with the hope that one or two will work and. 

00:33:40 Harry Destecroix 

This has been like a really effective tool for for innovation and how we fund high risk innovation and the first firm started in in in America. So I got interested in in French capital because I failed to raise any. 

00:33:55 Harry Destecroix 

And I thought maybe they were. There was a gap in the market at the early stage as to how we might kind of make investment decisions. So when I sold SILO in 2018, we I started kind of investing. 

00:34:14 Harry Destecroix 

Directly in into university spin outs. So I made about 14 Angel investments. 

00:34:20 Harry Destecroix 

And kind of every time I invested like someone would, someone would invest alongside me and I thought, hang on a minute, this is interesting. I’d be really interested in psychology and I would say, look, I’m I’m investing because I’ve, you know, I’ve been incredibly lucky and I just want to give someone kind of an opportunity that I had. I had investors and I feel like this is important. But like I’ve done, I’ve done much due diligence. 

00:34:40 Harry Destecroix 

Yeah, like I’m just. I’m. I’m making it cause I think it’s it’s a it’s an important part like Angel investing which is where individuals investing companies right at the early stage is really key in kind of these startup ecosystems. 

00:34:52 Harry Destecroix 

But then, once you, once you kind of get past the Angel investments stuff, if you really want to have impact in deep technologies like you’ve gotta raise a lot of money and and if you look at, there’s a handful of cities across the world that do most of the world’s innovation. And that’s because these companies. 

00:35:12 Harry Destecroix 

And raise. 

00:35:14 Harry Destecroix 

Larger sums of money to get their products later down the line, and if you look to places like Cambridge and Oxford and London there there’s a lot of VC’s that back these companies and I suppose what we noticed in Bristol was that the companies were raising maybe 8 times less money for the same stage in Bristol as they were in. 

00:35:34 Harry Destecroix 

In London and Cambridge and Oxford. So we’d built these incubators, we’d started Asian investing, I thought, hang on a minute. 

00:35:40 Harry Destecroix 

Like none of these companies are really gonna have a chance to compete on like the global standpoint unless we kind of fund them kind of more significantly. So decided to stop Angel investing and kind of to start the third company, which was like great ventures a, we launched a a small. 

00:36:01 Harry Destecroix 

Venture capital firm in 2021 and we decided, you know, we started, yeah, investing across, you know, the healthcare and kind of materials and climate space and and that’s that’s been a really interesting kind of home for me and I suppose and I’ve got a very small team and and. 

00:36:20 Harry Destecroix 

It’s it’s a large part of what we do now, but it’s important part of the ecosystem is are these venture funds. So like I say, you kind of need those three things you need the the research and the smart people and the networks have done it before places to do it and then the investors and they think we are one of the first kind of kind of Bristol born. 

00:36:39 Harry Destecroix 

VC funds and that really focus on these. This class of company which are kind of like a very narrow class of company. You know they’re highly risky pre revenue you know deeply technical companies. So you know in terms of me and what I like which is. 

00:36:57 Harry Destecroix 

To understand how things work, it’s kind of, you know, it’s an absolute playground of kind of amazingly talented professors and research and science that I get to kind of help invest in and and and and hopefully support. 

00:37:12 Prof Michele Barbour 

The way you describe, I want to say your career, but we’re talking a period of less than 10 years so. So that’s actually really quite a short period to have done so many different things. 

00:37:22 Prof Michele Barbour 

But the way you describe it, it sounds quite. 

00:37:25 Harry Destecroix 

Sounds like someone with ADHD. 

00:37:27 Prof Michele Barbour 

That wasn’t at all what I was gonna say, but more but, but arguably yes, but it sounds like you’ve you’ve seen exciting opportunities that energize you and you’ve gone for them. 

00:37:37 Harry Destecroix 

The way I describe it is like the the problem that I have. You know, I I’m deeply troubled, but the the the problem, the problem that I have is that. 

00:37:45 Harry Destecroix 

If we if I see something that needs to be fixed, I have. 

00:37:47 Harry Destecroix 

To fix. 

00:37:48 Harry Destecroix 

It and so and I I kind of then make it my kind of goal when. 

00:37:52 Harry Destecroix 

I see that. 

00:37:53 Harry Destecroix 

That what? What do you mean there’s no space for us to spin companies out and hundreds of millions of pounds of government money goes into research and we’ve got nowhere to spin it out to. How could that be possible? And now I’ve gotta. Now we’ve got to set an incubator. 

00:38:05 Harry Destecroix 

Up to to solve that problem, there’s been these, and then what? Hang on a minute. You mean that people can’t even raise the funding even if they’ve got the great technology? Well, let’s, let’s, let’s contribute. So I think it’s the there’s been a few of these problems. 

00:38:17 Harry Destecroix 

So I think it’s it’s been that and as you keep on covering them you you need kind of more and more people to kind of pick up the crumbs and so so it’s it’s it’s been this kind of collective you know amazing people that kind of work with me and alongside me and that are really motivated in power to kind of. 

00:38:37 Harry Destecroix 

You know, go after some some really big issues and I think we believe that there are a lot of issues to go after so. 

00:38:42 Prof Michele Barbour 

It’s a lot of things to be busy with, so that’s my next question. But my question before that is, do you therefore when you you see something that needs to be fixed, you’re frustrated that there isn’t space to incubate your company there isn’t the money to incubate your company? 

00:38:55 Prof Michele Barbour 

Once you have fixed it, or at least put in place the solution, can you do you hand that over to someone else? Do you step back from it? 

00:39:05 Prof Michele Barbour 

Or do you find that hard? 

00:39:07 Harry Destecroix 

I think the the you know, I think the the ideal thing with entrepreneurship is that you know you, you know you, you make yourself redundant. 

00:39:15 Harry Destecroix 

You know, otherwise you’re just self-employed. 

00:39:18 Harry Destecroix 

So I think you you’ve gotta, you know, ultimately you need to hand it over to people and then you can go off and and do. And I think it depends. 

00:39:27 Harry Destecroix 

On what? 

00:39:28 Harry Destecroix 

What phenotype you are and where where you can deliver value, you know I’m not a kind of finisher. You know, I’m a starter. 

00:39:36 Prof Michele Barbour 

Start your abandoner. I call it. Describe me as well, yeah. 

00:39:38 Harry Destecroix 

Starter. Frankly. Yeah. And I’ve got all these traumatized people have to finish these projects, but who then they do all the hard work and but. 

00:39:47 Harry Destecroix 

I think there’s certain there’s certain there’s certain areas in teams yet in order to deliver impact, you can’t possibly, you know, how do you effectively manage your time and and prioritize. And that’s been a, I suppose that’s been a big part of my life over the last two years is learning to do better time management and spread myself as thinly as possible and. 

00:40:07 Harry Destecroix 

You know, work can be as impactful as possible and part of delivering impact is kind of and finding people that are better than you and handing over to them. 

00:40:15 Harry Destecroix 

So what I’ve learned to do is. 

00:40:18 Harry Destecroix 

You know is move away from kind of directly operating the company and become more advisory and I suppose I’ve learned to kind of be more of a more of an advisor and a mentor to my team and allowing them to step up and kind of really lead certain parts of of the organization. So you know, I step back from the incubators. 

00:40:38 Harry Destecroix 

Vision and and promoted ash to to CEO. So then learning to be more of a director that’s hard to transition for me, but it’s that’s been really powerful because it’s allowed me to focus on ventures and I think I found my home, my day job in ventures because. 

00:40:55 Harry Destecroix 

It’s a job which allows you to kind of be jumped from idea to idea to idea because you’ve got this portfolio of companies. So actually I think it’s a really good match for my my personality to kind of be able to kind of help lots of different companies and and make lots of these investment decisions and then learn a lot. 

00:41:16 Harry Destecroix 

And then apply it more broadly across the incubators and everything that we do. 

00:41:20 Prof Michele Barbour 

That is exactly what I was wondering, because when you’ve gone through the money, you’ve gone through the really obvious question is, what’s the next big thing. But actually, as of VC, is the next big thing the next investment so. 

00:41:30 Prof Michele Barbour 

You can keep that level of of energy and that that need for adrenaline to put words into your mouth. Sorry. 

00:41:37 Prof Michele Barbour 

Through that venture arm. Or do you see in five years time you’ll be doing something different again? 

00:41:44 Harry Destecroix 

No, I I think you know for me, I think there’s a, there’s a real art in in early stage VC like and hey like I don’t know if anything’s gonna work. Yeah. I mean, that’s part of the beauty. It takes 10 years for anyone to know you’re any good at it. But I think it’s it’s super. It’s super interesting because. 

00:42:01 Harry Destecroix 

I believe that. 

00:42:03 Harry Destecroix 

For me and and and what I’m kind of maybe showing that I can do is is I’m good at kind of the the uncertainty in the early stage a bit, I’m probably less good at being operational and scaling organizations. I like small teams that are highly collaborative and like really flat hierarchies. So I don’t like kind of you know working. 

00:42:24 Harry Destecroix 

Too many people, so I’m not, like, kind of scared up person. So I think as a small VC where we kind of. 

00:42:29 Harry Destecroix 

We work on this kind of early stage or early stage we call kind of pre seed to Series A. So it’s kind of the companies that maybe you know from zero to 2030 people and then once they get to a certain set size they get handed over to like the larger scale investors. And I go back, I feel like that’s that’s something that I’m. 

00:42:48 Harry Destecroix 

I’m really interested in and I I’m enjoying that so over the next kind of 10 years and planned, I plan to be in venture capital and then, you know, I haven’t really set. 

00:43:01 Harry Destecroix 

Anything past 10 years cause it’s that’s too far away to do anything, especially with AI. Everything’s changing every month so. 

00:43:08 Prof Michele Barbour 

So with everything you’ve described in all the directions you’ve taken, I can’t help but think that it’s inevitable that you’ve encountered failure alongside the success. 

00:43:17 Prof Michele Barbour 

Is that the case and how have you dealt? 

00:43:19 Harry Destecroix 

With that, I think, yeah, I’ve, I’ve. 

00:43:22 Harry Destecroix 

Like of saying at the start, you know there’s been lots of things where we’re having me able to get jobs and being fairly unemployable. You know, I think. 

00:43:29 Harry Destecroix 

I’ve learned to deal with failure. I think largely because of kind of I I was pretty dyslexic and pretty dyslexic. So as a as a child like, you know, you know I I failed a lot of English in writing and kind of was told a lot that I wouldn’t be able to do. 

00:43:47 Harry Destecroix 

A lot of things. 

00:43:49 Harry Destecroix 

So kind. 

00:43:50 Harry Destecroix 

It you know that has made me pretty resilient around people kind of telling me what I can and can’t do. And I think that’s actually fed into kind of the larger narrative. So I think it’s made me a lot more resilient to failure. It’s almost been expected because it’s kind of been something that I’ve dealt with my whole life. 

00:44:10 Harry Destecroix 

And there’s been many things along the way that haven’t work. 

00:44:13 Harry Destecroix 

I think there’s just this kind of like determination just to keep banging your head at the wall until something works. And I think that’s been kind of my approach. It’s just pure kind of. I’m not going away till I’ve solved this problem. So, so many things don’t work first time. So I think on the outside it looks like everything works. But actually on the inside, it’s kind of there’s there’s been lots of things that. 

00:44:36 Harry Destecroix 

Absolutely haven’t worked, but it’s been that kind of. 

00:44:40 Harry Destecroix 

For me, it’s been that approach. I mean, we had many times one time where we kind of. 

00:44:44 Harry Destecroix 

We were the incubators nearly got built and didn’t get built. You know, very nearly, you know, we were kind of struggling to kind of make it financially work as a business. We’ve been refused all grant funding and and, you know, we were trying to kind of we’ve been told that if you, you know, that effectively fire the whole team, you’ve got kind of 24 hours to kind of. 

00:45:05 Harry Destecroix 

Fix it so you know massively failed up into that point over and over again. Failed with grants, failed kind of to to to write a business plan that was fundable. 

00:45:12 Harry Destecroix 

So I think the thing was perseverance there and you know, Remember Me and Tom, you know, we stayed up for like 36 hours straight and and we realised that if we did one floor of the building then actually that would actually reduce the building costs a lot more. But it would. But because of the way that you design the building have rises and foundations, it would mean that. 

00:45:32 Harry Destecroix 

You would kind of reduce the building costs in half, but you wouldn’t lose half the building. And then from there we worked out a way to kind of construct it cheaper, which allowed us to make something that was just about economically viable and allowed us to raise investment. So I think it’s been that. 

00:45:51 Harry Destecroix 

That approach of I don’t mind failing. 

00:45:55 Harry Destecroix 

As long as I have absolutely. 

00:45:59 Harry Destecroix 

Gone to every last you know, you know effort to try and make it work and then I can walk away angry. At least I tried. But like, I think if there’s something in my head that says, you know, this is really hard. Like I don’t mind hard challenges. Right. But. 

00:46:16 Harry Destecroix 

As long as I can, kind of. 

00:46:17 Harry Destecroix 

Walk away and. 

00:46:18 Harry Destecroix 

Go look. I I gave it my all and then I can kind of walk away and go. OK, well, you know, I’m probably probably not gonna work now, but there’s just a very high threshold in terms of kind of the lengths you’ll go to to try and get something to work. And I think that’s that’s some of the magic of entrepreneurship. Is that kind of. 

00:46:37 Harry Destecroix 

Drive that you get within small companies to kind of deliver it because it’s life or death, right? You know you’re gonna lose your job, and I’ve tried to kind of moving forward now in the position that I’m at, where I kind of. 

00:46:49 Harry Destecroix 

There’s been a big psychological shift in me because I I was so driven, you know, by kind of effectively, you know, paying the rent and never thinking I’d ever own a house and all those kind of things that most people go. 

00:46:59 Harry Destecroix 

Through in the UK. 

00:47:02 Harry Destecroix 

Was was really kind of how do I hold on to that kind of kind of drive to do that? 

00:47:09 Harry Destecroix 

Whilst kind of not having to work. 

00:47:12 Prof Michele Barbour 

How do you become? How do you remain hungry when there’s no shortage of systems? 

00:47:14 Harry Destecroix 

And and I found. 

00:47:16 Harry Destecroix 

That’s actually not been a problem, so I think I think it’s actually been, if anything, it feel like I’ve got even more responsibility now to actually deliver and do something. 

00:47:24 Harry Destecroix 

Think positive considering the amount of luck that I’ve had in life to try and do more positive things there. So it’s been something where I found actually I’ve probably more driven than I’ve ever been to continue kind of on you know, what I’m doing with the team. So it’s been interesting. So I was really worried that I would maybe like lose that and I’d kind of just want to sit on a beach and do nothing. 

00:47:45 Harry Destecroix 

I found actually and I find it incredibly hard to sit still. I think I had three weeks off after after Nova acquired Xylo and then I went. 

00:47:53 Prof Michele Barbour 

Back to work. Straight back. Yeah. You describe you use the word look a lot, which I find very interesting of itself. 

00:48:00 Prof Michele Barbour 

That how does that impact your approach to to mentoring, to guiding, to advising other entrepreneurs earlier in their journey? Because if you feel a lot of what you’ve achieved has been luck in your words. 

00:48:13 Prof Michele Barbour 

Then you can’t advise someone to be lucky. 

00:48:15 Prof Michele Barbour 

Because that’s kind of beyond their control. 

00:48:17 Prof Michele Barbour 

Can you? Yeah. 

00:48:17 Harry Destecroix 

Of course you can like like I think like I think you know you. 

00:48:21 Harry Destecroix 

I think it’s it’s really about this kind of asymmetrical risk, you know, and I think first of all like what are you going to learn from the the experience, you know, a lot of these skill sets are transferable, like building companies that, yeah, they may not work and and and that and that’s of course that’s part of of entrepreneurship. You have to be OK. 

00:48:41 Harry Destecroix 

With the fact it it won’t work, but I mean you look at people who’ve gone into academia, you know, what’s the chances I’ll get into this university? What’s the chances I’ll get into this program like we’re really used to kind of the odds not being in our favor. So I think that shouldn’t deter you. 

00:48:56 Harry Destecroix 

So so I think so there is a degree of luck in everything. It’s a degree of chance, a degree of risk like you know if we there’s a degree of uncertainty and it’s just about being comfortable with uncertainty and like all the best things in in life kind of take a certain level of risk you know. 

00:49:15 Harry Destecroix 

Nothing straightforward. Nothing’s binary, you know, in, in, in that regard, especially life. And that’s part of the beauty. I I often think like if I. 

00:49:25 Harry Destecroix 

You know, for me personally, the idea that I knew what I was doing 5 or 10 years time was terrifying. Like, I don’t wanna know, you know, I want it to be left to chance and random. I think that’s the beauty of life. So yeah, there’s a certain degree of luck and risk and the more risk you take, you know, the more. 

00:49:46 Harry Destecroix 

You the more you, you kind of the more risk you take the the the more chances you go for. 

00:49:54 Harry Destecroix 

The the more probability that something will work out. So you you have to kind of you balance that. So yeah, the more the more the more you take their chance the more you you could say look I’m going to take this really unrisked path right and I’m going to work in this career and this job line and all this on AI replaces you or you know you’re going to go down this whole path is going to be really. 

00:50:14 Harry Destecroix 

Safe. And I’m gonna go from this career, and I’m gonna get 50,060 thousand and all of a sudden that industry disappears or you get made redundant. So, like, there’s always a degree of risk in everything you do. And actually, by narrowly going down the unrisked path, are you actually taking a huge risk? So. So I think I think often people don’t understand what risk. 

00:50:29 Prof Michele Barbour 

Your Grace risk, yeah. 

00:50:33 Harry Destecroix 

Is I think they also get. I mean I’m big on risk cause in venture capital. So don’t get me started on this, but effectively most people misconstrued risk was as uncertainty. So risk is where you’ve actually quantified something of what the risk is and often people say oh, I don’t wanna do that, it’s really risky. 

00:50:50 Harry Destecroix 

And I’m like, what do you mean? Can you break that down? What’s the risky part of that? Can you give me some comparison as to what the risk profile is here? Are you just talking about? I don’t like that because I don’t know what it’s going to do, and I don’t understand it. It’s uncertain. So although my advice to a lot of people is actually, can you at least kind of try and define the risk and compare it to? 

00:50:59 Prof Michele Barbour 

Don’t understand it. 

00:51:08 Harry Destecroix 

To to something. So yeah, there’s there’s risks of of, you know, things turning out in your favour and not all I would say is like, as long as you’re learning along that journey and you’re pushing yourself that and you’ve put all, you’re all into everything you do, then you can be satisfied. You gave it a go and you’re not going to kind of be kind of looking back going. 

00:51:28 Harry Destecroix 

I wish I had gone for that and I don’t want to kind of, you know, you know, be that person that kind of looks back and go, oh, God, I wish. I wish I’d take that. Obviously, that’s not gonna happen, you know, with my I’ll probably look back here and go, why did I take that risk? That was completely stupid. 

00:51:38 Prof Michele Barbour 

Not with you, but it’s still a powerful. 

00:51:44 Prof Michele Barbour 

But at the same time, it does come back to my question about failure and how one of the things I’m interested explore is is how one defines failure. If you have put everything into something, if you’ve tried every opportunity and it doesn’t work out the way you planned, is that a defined as a failure? I mean, an investor might say you’re an investor now, you might say if I. 

00:51:59 Prof Michele Barbour 

Don’t get my 10 by it’s a failure but. 

00:52:01 Harry Destecroix 

I think this comes back to the mice like, why are you doing whatever you’re doing? Is it to impress your friends is and to impress your parents? Is it to kind of because it should? You should be doing stuff for yourself. 

00:52:11 Harry Destecroix 

OK, so so I think like you know, as long as you are bought in and you’re doing something for you, I think that’s one thing I learned. It’s like, you know, it’s when I start doing things for me and and why I wanted to do them, that’s where things started to go a bit better for me when I kind of was pushing for others and approval. And I think that’s where things kind of. 

00:52:32 Harry Destecroix 

Can can go down the wrong path, so I think like all of this kind of what is failure. I think you know. 

00:52:40 Harry Destecroix 

The only way you learn is by making mistakes. If you continually get everything. 

00:52:46 Harry Destecroix 

Right. You know what do you learn? I’ve been. I’ve been awful to be that person. It would be so boring. And so, you know, I’ve, you know, I’ve absolutely taking a career where my job is to get it wrong 50% of the time, you know. And that that would be an amazing result. Like, if I got it wrong, only 50% of the time in my venture. 

00:53:05 Harry Destecroix 

And I’d be considered like. 

00:53:06 Prof Michele Barbour 

A rule you would be a genius, a bona fide genius? Absolutely. 

00:53:08 Harry Destecroix 

Yeah. So, but my job is to take enough risk and to make mistakes. And that’s the best place in the world. Like, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. If you’re not pushing yourself, you’re not fooling, you’re not in. 

00:53:19 Harry Destecroix 

So you really need to like, you know, part of the beauty of life is that struggle is that failure, because that’s where you improve and that’s how you get better. So you kind of have to embrace it and enjoy that process is excruciating. It is as it is along the way that sort of part of what makes life, you know, worth living. So. 

00:53:39 Harry Destecroix 

Yeah, the last sort. 

00:53:40 Harry Destecroix 

Of four or five months, I’ve kind of got fairly obsessed with with AI, OK, because. 

00:53:49 Harry Destecroix 

Well, first of all, it’s like the most amazing kind of the current alms effectively allow you to speak to computers and get them to do things, which is, like, really useful if you can’t code. It’s kind of leveling the playing field in my opinion and kind of what you can do with computers, like filet. All of us now have this. 

00:54:08 Harry Destecroix 

Ability to kind of do things in command computers that only kind of the elite software programmers could do. So it’s really exciting in terms of what it can do and what it can enable. It’s also very scary. 

00:54:19 Harry Destecroix 

Vary in terms of what it’s actually doing, and then the other. The thing that I’ve been using it for, which I think you know is I’m an auditory learner, so I’ve been building kind of software stacks whereby I can kind of take audio transcriptions and then pull out kind of action points to meet meeting notes and things like that. So I don’t have to kind of. 

00:54:40 Harry Destecroix 

Remember, any of my conversations I can kind of just take an audio file and then create kind of actions to do this. Also pull out like halfway through a conversation. I might have an idea. I can go through a transcript, use that copy and paste that app, throw that into like, you know, ChatGPT or through an API and open AI. 

00:54:57 Harry Destecroix 

And create a whole press release based on or article based on your own idea. So I think it’s incredibly powerful and what it’s enabling at the moment and so much of biology is is an untapped data set and so I’m really excited in terms of what it’s going to do in terms of unlocking. 

00:55:17 Harry Destecroix 

Kind of people and potential. 

00:55:21 Harry Destecroix 

Across like multiple industries, so at the moment we’re kind of doing a lot of things internally with AI. How can we kind of use it to make the venture firm better? How can we kind of, you know, equip startup founders with using it and and also you know been getting together with local entrepreneurs as well to try and kind of. 

00:55:40 Harry Destecroix 

Let’s all start to to use it because I kind of feel like it’s like one of these things, like the person using AI as a code. 

00:55:46 Harry Destecroix 

Like is gonna hopefully produce better content than the person who’s not. So I’m I’m really like, strongly in favour and everybody trying to use it across across kind of Bristol and and and the UK, I think it’s it’s an incredibly powerful tool and and it’s enabling me to kind of do even more now I think if if if anything it’s kind of. 

00:56:07 Harry Destecroix 

It’s really like almost like, cured my dyslexia in a way, cause it’s allowed me to. 

00:56:12 Harry Destecroix 

To to work in a format which is native to me, which is just purely auditory. Whether things being kind of automatically transcribed to text automatically being reorganised and put into kind of pulling out the key concepts and things like that. So it’s incredibly powerful of kind of storytelling and what it’s doing with language. So there’s a real. 

00:56:32 Harry Destecroix 

Obviously there’s all the stuff it’s done with, like alpha fold in terms of solving protein. 

00:56:36 Harry Destecroix 

And sequences and and creating 3D structures and now it’s becoming more and more user friendly. I think it’s almost like Lego in terms of how you can kind of connect these things together. Anyone can play. So I kind of feel like it’s just been this explosion since kind of probably GT4 was released kind of four months ago where. 

00:56:56 Harry Destecroix 

It’s been this kind of existential thing that I feel like I’ve got to use and I’ve got to understand how to how to use it. 

00:57:02 Harry Destecroix 

In order to kind of hopefully get other people to use it and and understand how it can be useful to what we’re doing. So I really I feel like used for the right reasons. It can be used to really accelerate research and science and entrepreneurship and provide even more impact because hey, there’s a lot of problems that need to be solved. So we need all the help we can get and if it can be useful, let’s let’s use it. 

00:57:23 Prof Michele Barbour 

So I find it really interesting. You talk about some of the applications AI has had in in your own life. It’s helped you, for instance, find ways to to sort of relegate your dyslexia to, you know, not not disadvantaging or troubling you. 

00:57:35 Prof Michele Barbour 

From the investor point of view, what do you think are some of the most compelling use cases of AI now? What do you think there might be in a few years time and fairly short horizon? 

00:57:48 Harry Destecroix 

Yeah. So, so I think, yeah, like what? It’s useful now like what these LM’s can do, I think is they can really convert data from one format to another. You know, so it can take audio and it can automatically transcribe it. You can take a PDF and it can read it to you. You can then take text and you can understand what’s in that text. You can ask it to interpret. 

00:58:08 Harry Destecroix 

Vote it’s it’s it’s almost like it’s made kind of the interface of the computer, kind of. 

00:58:13 Harry Destecroix 

Accessible to so many people, so we can really do things like take this debt, this text here and turn it into a database so. Well that’s there’s a load of problems like when we digitized everything we ran into this problem of like. 

00:58:28 Harry Destecroix 

There was just all these people. There’s this administration burden of putting data into computers, which is like plague doctors cause all they’re doing is kind of filling out patient notes. And like, you know, to something like 50% of all of U.S. healthcare as administrator. 

00:58:44 Harry Destecroix 

And you know how much within universities is administration, you know, following a minute. So what it can do is it can automatically kind of kind of just automate some of these things, which is great because then humans can be more productive and we can do more things which aren’t administration. So I think some of the initial use cases now are kind of. 

00:58:48 Prof Michele Barbour 

Perfect. Yeah. 

00:59:03 Harry Destecroix 

Kind of these kind of AI Co pilots and being able to kind of automatically listen and then take that information and then put them into structured data form. 

00:59:12 Harry Destecroix 

That’s and. But also you can use it to kind of take unstructured messy data and then structure it automatically. And those are some really useful cases now because they think it really tackles that administration and recording and following up and that part of society which is incredibly like time consuming and inefficient. 

00:59:32 Harry Destecroix 

And anybody who knows this, who’s run a business or worked in any organisation who’s sat there? Kind of. 

00:59:38 Harry Destecroix 

Putting things painstakingly into a computer like data entry, it’s it’s it’s a big problem, so the fact that we can kind of now kind of free up people from doing that and you know maybe have GP’s that spend more of their time talking to patients and treating them and not kind of worried that they’re gonna get sued and following up on everything. So I think that’s really that those are some immediate. 

00:59:38 Prof Michele Barbour 

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. 

00:59:57 Harry Destecroix 

Cases and then of course, there’s been this alml kind of thing that’s been happening for a while in, in, in physics and science you had, you know, releases like alpha fold from from from Deep Mind, which would be amazing to solve every. 

01:00:12 Harry Destecroix 

Protein structure kind of. You give it a sequence and it can predict to certain degrees of certainty kind of that. And that’s how huge U cases in biomedical sciences. So being able to kind of model these complex systems is is absolutely huge. So there’s kind of the kind of at the kind of individual application layer and creating kind of. 

01:00:31 Harry Destecroix 

Al models to solve problems with structured data sets, but what’s excited about these generative AI models is is the fact that they can kind of the emergence of kind of intelligence or some form of intelligence where you train something on a load of text and all of a sudden it can speak? 

01:00:48 Harry Destecroix 

Like 20 languages and it can automatically do this conversion. I mean I think that’s kind of pretty crazy and what’s happening now. And if you look at the stuff that’s happening in like image generation, like if anyone has used like mid journey and things like that, it’s absolutely crazy and kind of what you could be doing there. So the idea that we can produce better content. 

01:01:08 Harry Destecroix 

We can communicate better, I think, in a way we’re we’re living in this world where there’s so much information. 

01:01:14 Harry Destecroix 

It’s quite exciting that we can actually maybe start filtering it and having it so it’s more personalized to us. 

01:01:20 Harry Destecroix 

It’s quite exciting. So I think you know the future will be kind of much, much more personalized information because we’re able to kind of take information and kind of reformulate it in a way that’s perfect for us, be that audio, be that kind of explained to you in a way that you understand things. And I think that’s really exciting. You having a central body of information. 

01:01:40 Harry Destecroix 

And you can now explain it to someone in any language, but also at any level in any way. That kind of suits them. So it’s this transformation of kind of the original data, still the humans and the creativity and creating that original data, we still need the human parts of that to to to make the original content. But the way we can take that original content. 

01:02:00 Harry Destecroix 

And kind of convert it to different kind of formats which are better for different applications is really exciting and that technology is available now and it’s you know it’s it’s pretty, it’s pretty amazing what you what you can do. I mean I. 

01:02:15 Harry Destecroix 

Barely can coded, you know, tiny bit in Python And what I’ve been able to like pull together it and just by. 

01:02:22 Harry Destecroix 

Stringing things together. 

01:02:22 Harry Destecroix 

It’s pretty pretty cool. So I encourage everybody to start using it and first of all then our our kind of AI strategy was first to like turn it on ourselves to try, try and make ourselves more productive and then go out and then try. 

01:02:34 Harry Destecroix 

And kind of. 

01:02:35 Harry Destecroix 

Kind of tools and and build it so I’m I’ve got no idea where it’s going to go to. 

01:02:40 Harry Destecroix 

You know, said I think anyone who says to you, who knows where it’s going is completely lying, you know? So at the moment it I think it’s meant that you know it, it feels like every month we have six months of progress. So it’s it’s an incredibly exciting time. I think it’s we’re on the birth of you know completely new. 

01:02:43 Prof Michele Barbour 

It’s pretty much. 

01:03:00 Harry Destecroix 

Industrial Revolution, I don’t think we’ve not seen anything like it in the history of humans to be able to take that much collective knowledge and be able to kind of make this much progress. And and I think it’s going to every time we’ve had some step change and kind of our knowledge and understanding, it’s generally resulted in, in, in, in kind of a positive outcome so. 

01:03:20 Harry Destecroix 

You know, I’m. I’m hopeful this is gonna be really, really useful to society. And we we’ve got a lot of problems that need solving and I think, you know, AI is going to be something that goes across all industries and really positively affects a lot of a lot of people around the world. 

01:03:36 Prof Michele Barbour 

I share your excitement. I share what I would describe with your optimism. 

01:03:41 Prof Michele Barbour 

Do you have things you’re concerned about from the point of view of the? 

01:03:43 Harry Destecroix 

Applications of AI I think there’s always going to be misuse cases from it, but I kind of feel like again like the idea of like use AI on yourself first like use AI to solve some of those problems hopefully. So I think there are big concerns in terms of like what it could be used, you know in terms. 

01:04:00 Harry Destecroix 

Like, you know, spamming people and like really, you know, fraud and, you know, propaganda, but we’ve kind of been living in a world of that, like, you know, you know, with social media and kind of the, the, the, the spread of kind of a lot of misinformation. So I’m hopeful that. 

01:04:18 Harry Destecroix 

With the right people behind it that we can kind of use it to actually self regulate, I think the UK is taking a good approach in terms of you know how to harness it. I think we gotta be careful that we don’t. 

01:04:32 Harry Destecroix 

Especially Europe, we don’t kind of stamp on it. 

01:04:35 Prof Michele Barbour 

Because it’s not excuse to. 

01:04:36 Harry Destecroix 

Live in a cave. I think we’re gonna a lot of. I think we have to. We have to embrace it because I feel like otherwise others will and will be left. 

01:04:45 Prof Michele Barbour 

Behind that’s all for this enterprise session, but join us again soon to hear more about the way our. 

01:04:50 Prof Michele Barbour 

Amazing staff and students are translating their enterprising ideas into real world impact and do please click on the links if you’d like to contact the University of Bristol. 

 

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