Investor Q&A: Tanel Ozdemir

UCLTF Investor, Tanel Ozdemir shares his thoughts on investing, and life as an academic.

What led you to working on the Life Sciences Team at UCLTF?

After a degree in Human Biology at King’s College London, I joined UCL for a Masters in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine. During that year up at the Royal Free Hospital, I caught the lab-work bug and was fortunate enough to get a place the following year on the BBSRC’s London Interdisciplinary Biosciences Consortium (LIDo) PhD programme. I ended up joining Professors Chris Barnes’ and Geraint Thomas’ labs within the UCL Division of Biosciences and had an incredibly fun and formative 4 years there working on synthetic biological tools for engineering the intestinal microbiome.

I found the PhD both humbling and exciting, but it also sparked off my interest on what is translational research and the wider impact our academic work has on society. It was this that led me to developing a growing interest in the role of venture capital (VC) within the life sciences.

As part of my LIDo PhD internship, which was a fantastic feature of the programme, I was fortunate enough to get a 3-month placement at Albion Capital in 2016 just when they were launching the first UCL Technology Fund (UCLTF) together with UCL Business (UCLB). As well as being bowled over by the team, I found the role fascinating and couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding and educational three months in VC. After finishing my PhD and doing a short post-doc with Professor Barnes at UCL, I leapt at the opportunity to re-join the UCLTF team full time in 2018 and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since!

Is there anything you miss about being an academic?

It’s definitely not working in a cell culture hood for 6 days a week! But there are quite a few things I miss:

  • The feeling of satisfaction when you finally get a troublesome experiment to work.
  • Taking stunning photos on a confocal microscope (shout out to the UCL Doctoral School’s Research Images Competition).
  • Knowing that you’re contributing something entirely novel to the world, no matter how small.
  • The sense of camaraderie within a research group that is working on a common goal .

What is your favourite part of working with UCL academic founders?

Given that they’re typically world-leaders in their respective fields, it’s probably the fact that it’s incredibly easy for me to see the potential impact of our life science investments if we manage to progress their technology to the clinic and/or the market.

And the worst…?

As most would appreciate, biology can be incredibly cruel! However, we have come this far because we have trained ourselves to look at data objectively and in a greater context of risk/reward. Given how long some of these academics have been working in their respective fields, it can sometimes be a challenge to navigate any inherent (and understandable) biases during difficult decisions.

Are there any particularly exciting investments that you’re working on at the moment?

I currently have the pleasure of working with Dr John Fisher and Dr Marta Barisa from UCL GOS Institute of Child Health on their gamma delta T cell technology. We’re currently at the PoC stage, but they’re doing some incredible work on what could be a revolutionary technology within the cellular immune-oncology field.

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