Episode 1: Overview of UCLB - Transcript

In the very first podcast episode, Dr Anne Lane, CEO of UCL Business (UCLB), speaks to Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost of UCL (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) about what UCLB does, its unique role in UCL, and their future plans to help UCL academics create impact across society.

Release date: 19 January 2023

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TRANSCRIPT

Dr Anne Lane:

I’m very pleased to welcome our listeners to this first podcast from UCL Business. The program is a yearlong series to celebrate UCL and UCLB’s 30 years of success. The company was founded in 1993 and we thought it would be a good way to let people know about what UCL and UCLB have been doing in those 30 years.

Each episode is going to be monthly, and we will be talking to some of our academic inventors and founders. And it will cross the range of the research base at UCL. And I think some of our listeners will be surprised at the range of activities that UCL and UCLB have been involved with. And it will cover things from UCL’s excellence in computer science and artificial intelligence to some of our gene and cell therapy companies that have listed on Nasdaq, right through to social enterprises, with a range of paints that have come from the Slade School of Fine Art.

This is our first podcast of 12, and I am delighted to be joined by Professor Geraint Rees, UCL’s Vice Provost of Research, Innovation and Global Engagement, and also a longstanding board member of UCLB, both in his previous role as Dean of Life Sciences and now in his role as Vice Provost. Geraint, welcome.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Thank you very much and it’s great to be here. I’m very excited to be here to discuss with you UCL Business and its 30 years.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

And I should say my role at UCL is as the Chief Exec of UCL Business. I started that role in 2019, but actually I’ve been at UCL on the commercial side for many years before that, from 2000 and then in the early nineties I did my Ph.D. and post-doc at UCL. So I’ve been on both sides of the fence, although I’m not sure fence is quite the right way to put it.

I think that fence might be disappearing actually as we’ll get on to during our discussions.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Let me ask, how has it changed over that time? 30 years is a long time. So what’s your view on that?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

It’s a long time. And I haven’t been here in that role for 30 years. I’m not quite as old as I look, but I think it’s changed dramatically. So when I was an academic in the early nineties, anything that wasn’t academic research was admin, that’s how that’s how we viewed it. And when I came back to UCL in 2000, I very much got that impression.

I was then on the admin side, if you like, and I can remember some researchers not even wanting to engage with us, they were very much against commercialisation and that’s really changed. So in fact now we’ve got people beating down our doors, wanting to come and talk to us, serial entrepreneurs. And I think the whole landscape has changed, and I think that’s partly because of people’s attitudes.

I think it’s also because we’ve stepped up more. So I think technology transfer was probably archaic if that’s not too strong a word in the 2000 early 2000s. It’s changed dramatically. It’s a lot more sophisticated now.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Because I’m I’ve been at UCL a long time as well as, you know, in various different roles. And I certainly remember even in the last ten years from moving from a head of department to being a Dean of Life Sciences as we started constructing these pipeline, the Translational Research Office inside the university that started seeding a pipeline of biomedical research down the line towards UCL Business that we’re now seeing coming to fruition.

So I think they’ve been changes both in UCL Business and in technology transfer, but also inside the university that are working together to produce that pipeline.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I think that’s exactly right. And in fact, the Translational Research Office transformed things for us as well as the funding landscape. So programs like the DPFS from the MRC and the Wellcome Trust and then Syncona, which was one of the big investment groups that started from the Wellcome Trust and actually underpinned a lot of our cell and gene therapy companies that have now been so successful.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

That’s right. I remember the DPFS grants, which if listeners aren’t familiar with them, are milestone driven grants that take an academic who has an interesting idea or a minimum viable product or a proof of concept along the way towards something that’s more commercialisable. And I remember how academic colleagues first found that bewildering. The idea of a milestone, the idea of a grant that was about developing something to commercialisation rather than just open-ended research.

But we put in place systems and people who could help with that. And I think now we’ve got a different culture where people are more familiar with that. And I suspect that will help you and your colleagues in UCL Business when the time right time comes to crystallise a license or spin out deal.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I think that’s exactly right. I think that has also made our job a lot easier because with investment funding, especially venture capital funding, you have milestones to reach and if you don’t meet them, the money stops. And that I think can be quite a shock in an academic environment where you have people employed as postdocs, people doing PhDs on a research continuum, if you like, and all of a sudden the money disappears.

So that has made our dialogues with academics easier and it’s awesome that we’ve got better results for them because we can attract investors. They’re talking to people who are much more aware of the whole funding process.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And the benefit for us on the university side is that we can start to manage that as a portfolio and as a pipeline, two words I’ve used. So for the individual, the milestone might not be met and the money might stop, and that’s difficult and challenging. But when we think of it at the portfolio level of many different milestone driven grants or many different commercialisation opportunities, I think that helps.

Certainly my office in the university now think more about shaping that portfolio. One of the broad areas that we think are going to be particularly promising for commercialisation in the next few years.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

And I think that’s something that we worry about at UCLB in one way because we have a portfolio and if you were in an investment business, you’d want to diversify that portfolio and we’re limited in the diversification we can do because we get what comes through the doors and what’s being done at UCL. I think one of the things that we really want to look at is other areas of UCL that might not have engaged with us in the past and we’re starting to see that already, which is great.

So I think having that joined up dialogue with UCL just really helps to strengthen that portfolio and mean that we can make the returns we like to be able to see.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah, and it’s in our interest to do that because UCL is a comprehensive university where we take pride in the fact we don’t do absolutely everything. We don’t do aeronautics or have a school of performance art, for example. But we are comprehensive in our disciplinary mix and we’re looking to build impact from our research and innovation across a super wide range of portfolio areas from the biomedical science we’ve talked about now through engineering, computational and physical sciences, all the way out to the paints you mentioned in the in the introduction in the arts and humanities. But of course the creative arts and cultural industries are important elements too.

So we think about that a lot at UCL, and we also think about the connections between the disciplines that might allow us to have impact in emerging areas, biotechnology, for example, or biomedical engineering, but also many, many, many, many other interdisciplinary areas.

Are you able to support that, do you think, in UCL Business, is that that what you’re interested in doing too?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I mean that’s hit the nail on the head. That is definitely what we’re interested in doing, and maybe now’s a good time to talk about how UCLB is organised and set up and what we actually do, because I think the fact that we’re trying to reflect what we’d like to see at UCLB coming from UCL is key to that.

So the company was set up in 1993, quite a long time ago, and it’s really evolved since then. We now have around 60 employees, but they’re not just doing tech transfer. So we have a core group of business managers who are loosely divided in biomedical and non biomedical activities, but actually they’ve got very varied backgrounds, so they work together in a cross-disciplinary way and that really generates benefits for things like med tech, which is one of the areas that we’re looking at, and they’re supported by what I call a service team, which includes me as Chief Exec.

We have a legal team. We have an HR team. We’re employed by the company. We’re not employed by the university. And we have an independent board of directors. And actually, that’s good because that means we’ve got that expertise and independence that we can bring to bear on the commercialisation process, which removes it from an academic environment where the priorities can actually be quite different.

And I think that actually helps with our success. So we’re what I would call a fully serviced tech transfer office. We’re quite different to some universities. So if you compare just to, say, Cambridge, we don’t do consulting within, UCL Business, that’s a separate subsidiary. We don’t deal with student entrepreneurship. We’re very much focused on faculty commercialisation and I think that’s one of our strengths.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And I think from the university perspective, the portfolio I’m responsible for looks across all of our research, all of our innovation, all of our global engagement, and we see the advantages of that kind of independence. It’s an independent but very close relationship because we are, of course, the sole shareholder in UCL Business. So that’s why our relationship is so close.

But what we can see is that independence allows people with the kind of skills and expertise that we need to do successful commercialisation to be part of that organisation, to be supported in the way you suggest and to have fulfilling careers themselves. And I think that’s really important because I’m not sure we could replicate that if it was just an office of the university.

And I’m certain that not all of the skills in your company are those that we necessarily have commonly in academia. So it’s getting that interface right that I think is key to the success of technology transfer. I hope you share that opinion, but it’d be great to get your thoughts on that.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I couldn’t agree more. I would say that I’m slightly biased, but I when I started in 2000, we were a university office. The part of the commercialisation process that I was involved with, which was at UCL, and it was very different. So we were constantly bogged down by bureaucracy, I mean universities and especially one as big as UCL are bureaucratic.

They have to be by their nature in order to run properly. But when you’re doing commercialisation, you’ve got to be quick, you’ve got to take advantage of investment money that might be available there and then, companies want to move fast. And it was very hard to do that when you were a university department and to be fair we were a cost centre.

So we generated some money for the university, but you wouldn’t call it large amounts of money. That changed over the years. And as we became more successful then, it seemed obvious that it should be set up in a separate company that could be agile, that could retain profits to build those activities, but also return those profits to the university.

And I think it made a huge difference to us because as a commercialisation company, our priorities are different to an academic institution that’s focused on teaching research as it should be. And I think something that TTO sometimes get criticised for is trying to steer universities away from blue skies research. But actually, I think that’s one of the key strengths of the university.

And a lot of what we see now started off as blue sky research.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah, And certainly one of the key responsibilities of my office is to ensure that fundamental research and scholarship sometimes which appears to have no commercialisable value and indeed sometimes may never have that value. I think nurturing that as part of the overall portfolio is a really important part of being a comprehensive university. You can’t focus just on one technology readiness level or one area.

You’ve got to look across those, I think. And in some sense, having an independent technology transfer business allows us to focus on those kind of aspects of thinking about the big portfolio and the fundamental research and scholarship. Whilst leaving the commercialisation to the experts. I was going to say, though, being agile is great, I think we can be quite agile as a university sometimes.

But I take the criticism that universities can appear sometimes a little bit more lumbering and a little bit more slow. How do you make sure, though, that you’re not an agile tiger, bouncing all over the university and are misaligned, because alignment between our two sort of sets of goals is quite important to the success of the overall enterprise? I think.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Yeah, definitely. And I think the structure of our board where we have strong UCL representation is key and at the senior management level too. So you’ll remember we have the Chief Financial Officer too. Always good to have the person with the purse strings there and so we, you know, we have alignment in that way, but we also have a lot of dialogue with UCL’s council with our governing body so that they’re aware of what we’re doing.

And we have business managers who have responsibilities for specific areas, so they get to know in depth a particular department or an institution. So I think we do it at all levels and we try and make sure that it’s not just maybe the senior level, but also at the ground level researcher who, you know, might be an early career researcher.

And we want to make sure that we capture that too. So we definitely need to be aligned with the shareholder.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And that point about dialogue at all levels really resonated with me because I’ve learned a great deal by being an academic board member at UCL Business about how commercialisation works. So I’ve been on my own journey not just as a leader but as an entrepreneur myself, and getting involved in commercialisation of areas that I’m interested in, such as artificial intelligence and those areas.

I think it’s also the case that going back to where we talked originally, academic training in the UK has not always stressed commercialisation appropriately so in some disciplines perhaps less appropriately so in others. And certainly academic leadership in the UK has perhaps not always stressed innovation. I think that’s changed dramatically in the last 5 to 10 years and I suspect we’ll see it changing again.

So I think my goal, if I see it, is thinking about the two organisations, how can they be even more than the sum of their parts rather than just two adjacent organisations?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

So that’s something I’d actually like to ask you about, is how do you see your role as the Vice Provost of RIGE, which is a huge remit. I mean, you know, UCL is one of the biggest research institutions in the UK and Europe, but you also have innovation and global engagement as well. How do you see one – What’s your vision for UCL on that side? And then how do you see that aligning with what you see UCLB does?

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah, it’s, it’s a fantastic privilege to be leading such an amazing team of individuals in research, innovation and global engagement. Our vision is fairly straightforward. It’s to maximise the positive impact on the world of UCL’s research and innovation. But unpacking that brings, you know, some of the insights. I think we’ve already talked about how maximising your impact on the world means addressing, for example, the fact you need to invest in fundamental research and scholarship as well as more translational research.

So we think about how we do that, how we support people, how we support platforms and science technology platforms that allow some areas of research and scholarship to progress. We think about the research culture within the organisation and about that, and we think about connections because we’re a very large university now. And even the most agile and enthusiastic academic colleague can sometimes not see the connections across the institution for their research and scholarship to other individuals.

So within the institution, we spend our time thinking about people, platforms, culture, connections and then on the impact side, we work with colleagues like yourself to produce specialist impact here in the area of commercialisation of intellectual property. But we also, for example, as you mentioned earlier, have a consultancy business to aid colleagues in that. We support public policy and we have a fully open access university press that now produces the second largest number of open access research outputs in the world.

So we’re very proud of all of that portfolio, and we set it in a global context because UCL, like many leading universities, thinks globally about the global impact of our research, about priorities within the global landscape. For example, climate crisis or mental health or data empowered societies, how we can actually have a positive impact in the world.

So in one sense, my office and the portfolio that we’re responsible for has a technical and an operational delivery aspect. But in another sense it’s articulating that strategic vision and what we’re seeking to do in the world. So that’s a sort of a very short tour of what’s a very large number of people working incredibly hard to try and deliver that with students and staff in our great university.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

And I think actually talking about the global impact chimes very well with UCLB and what my vision is for UCLB, which is very similar to yours, when I, when I joined as CEO, when I joined back in 2000, when I joined as CEO, one of the areas that I really wanted to widen our focus on was on to computer science and engineering, because we were very much focused on the biomedical side and we’ve had a lot of success in those areas.

So we’ve had a great global impact because five of those companies have listed on Nasdaq, which just shows the global quality, I think, of UCL’s research and what it’s underpinned. And that’s all in gene and cell therapy, where you see as a world leader. But we’re pretty good at other things. And I think we haven’t seen the benefits of all of that, although we’re starting to, as I said at the beginning when we started talking, we’ve had a couple of exits already from an engineering company and also from a company that’s an AI company Satalia, which helps you get your Tesco’s deliveries on time. So it works out your mapping. So it’s real world impact.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

I just pop to the end of the road to my Tesco Express.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Well, there you are. So I have Co-op local so it’s not quite the same but, but you know, I think that just shows that a university that sometimes seen as a bit of an ivory tower actually can generate real world impacts to everybody.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah, it’s kind of interesting reflecting on perhaps on the differences between those. So those IPOs: Autolus, Orchard, Meira, Freeline, and Achilles. I think they’re phenomenal. I’m incredibly proud every time I talk about them and the external investment I think it’s just over £2 billion isn’t it. Yeah. That represents the strength of UCL’s IP and what external investors are prepared to, to put into those companies.

But that pathway starts an incredibly long time ago for those companies doesn’t it? And so BioMarin are coming up potentially with what we really hope might be a cure for hemophilia A but I think that’s just received FDA authorisation. When did that story begin?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

So that story really began back in 2014, 2013. You know, ten years and the same with all of the companies that you just talked about.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And if it’s a decade ago, you can imagine the actual underpinning research and the scholarship behind that is probably five, ten years before that. So we’re actually talking a 20 year pipeline.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Easily, easily a 20 year pipeline.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And I think that that really is interesting when you think about what we’ve needed to put in place in a university to support colleagues over that time and then pass it over to commercialisation. But that’s a bit different for these exciting new companies. Like Satalia or Bloomsbury AI, isn’t it? They’re much quicker. So you need the agility.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Well, yes and no. So that’s interesting because companies like Senceive and Satalia both started in 2008. But that I think is partly because with those sorts of high tech, deep tech companies, you don’t always know how you’re going to monetise the underlying technology. And with Senceive that was certainly the case. And actually that came about, the success of Senceive came about because of one of our board members who had worked with Network Rail, in fact, he was the chairman of Network Rail.

He made that introduction to the transport networks, and that’s when Senceive came into its own.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

So the technology was ahead of the capacity of the market, in this case, the construction industry, rail industry to actually appreciate the benefits of it.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

That’s exactly right. And sometimes you have that. So very often you have what we might call the bleeding edge of technology, where sometimes it’s too early for people to accept. You keep it bubbling along in the background. And in those cases actually I believe that even with the gene and cell therapy UCLB was loss making while we invested in those companies.

And now we’re moving into a phase of profitability, which I hope will last for a long time. But you do have to take those risks. And that’s another reason, I think, why having a separate company is such a good idea, because a university is not really a high risk investor in terms of deep tech or biotech, whereas we can be, we can do that.

We can take those risks. So I think I think it’s not always the case that it’s quick. Turning Landscape, which is a social enterprise, but actually has quite a lot of technology behind it was fairly quick as well.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

So your portfolio is becoming so much more diverse, which really works for us in the university in the sense that we’re a comprehensive university. We want to have impact on the world. So that’s fantastic. What sort of challenges does it produce for you as a team? You know, you’re small and agile, but you’re trying to cover everything.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I think we can’t cover everything and I don’t think we necessarily should because then trying to reap the maximum benefit to UCL would be very difficult. I think what having that focus on the biomedical portfolio at UCL and really making the most of UCL as world leading research in that area has generated benefits in other areas. So now that we will have some profit where we can reinvest in UCLB as well as returning to UCL means we can do more on the social enterprise side and build up that team.

So one of the things I’m cautious about doing is employing a whole load of new people, but not being able to sustain those, and not actually being able to make the most of what they’re doing. I’d rather we grow organically. And that’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. But I think it does mean we can now reach more areas of UCL.

And one of the great things about some of the UCL is people then start coming to us. So you see those academics are very proactive. They will, they will come to us, they will knock our doors down. That’s what we want because it makes our job so much easier. We can’t always do everything that they want us to do.

But I think what I would hope is that people come back to us and that they’re not put off by maybe us being constructively negative sometimes, but that they will come back and become what we like to call repeat offenders in the –

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Nicest possible way.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Yeah, nicest possible way.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah. Profitability and a virtuous circle. That sounds like a good way to grow.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

That’s exactly what we want.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

You think outside our organisations, people are as aware of that story we’ve been discussing as they, as they perhaps could be.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I don’t think they are. And that’s something else that we’re working very hard on changing. So I think UCL tends to hide its light under a bushel slightly. I mean, it’s surprising because it’s had a huge impact. It’s one of the best universities in the world. And yet people don’t know always know about it and particularly on the commercial side.

So it’s interesting because, you know, I’ve just been talking to people about joining our board and they all came from investment backgrounds, but they hadn’t heard about UCL on the commercial front. But when they read about what the university had done and what our activities were, they all said unanimously they put us at the top of the list.

We need to make sure that that gets out there more widely and that we raise our profile. When I say our profile, I mean UCL and UCLB in terms of commercialisation. And we are we are working to do that.

We’re just about to start raising our third investment fund for UCL and it’s really important that people know about who we are and what we do. And in particular investors, because if they don’t know about this, we have an uphill struggle to tell them about what we do.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

I mean, we’re incredibly proud in UCL of all our colleagues and what they do for commercialisation, but I think UCL Business, but also the individual academics, the companies and the people who have the faith to invest in the products we’re trying to create. So we’re incredibly proud. I agree. We don’t collectively always make the most of that and shout it from the rooftops.

And perhaps what we don’t celebrate as much is all the hard work that your company and colleagues in the university have put in over the decades to produce that headline. When a therapy goes into a patient or a new technology is deployed in the world, sometimes we don’t celebrate I think as much that hard detailed work that goes into putting that together, because if I sort of pull back and look as I have to for the university at the national and global landscape, I think in the UK it’s common for many people in quite senior positions, politicians, but also business people to say things like, well, the UK, it’s quite good at inventing stuff, but it’s not very good at commercialising stuff.

So that that kind of shibboleth, that kind of belief is, is I think, quite prominent nationally and might contrast with other countries where people are perhaps a bit more enthusiastic about the potential and the opportunities, don’t you think? So it’s a kind of national talking us down when in fact we don’t do too badly as a small country.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I know we really don’t. And I think we hit well above our weight.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Your company, UCLB is a part of a network isn’t it, of International Technology transfer organisation.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

That’s right.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

What sort of conversations do you have there?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

The same remarkably or maybe not surprisingly. So I represent UCL on a group called TenU and that’s really so that the UK groups are more outward looking. So we work with Columbia, Stanford and MIT, who we’re very often compared with. And it is very flattering, but I think they have very different ecosystems and landscapes and things work very differently there.

And we all share the same frustrations because they sometimes get the same accusations thrown at them that well you could do this better, you could do that better. And I think actually we are getting better. But I think the narrative is taking a while to catch up. So as you say, it’s very hard to shift that – we’re not very good at commercialisation as a as a country – I don’t think that’s right. And it’s clear we’ve got tangible results that are generating money for investors.

I think a lot of it is about us making sure we can change that dialogue and we are doing that. We have strong links with the investor community in the UK and they’ve had to do the same in the US and they have guidelines now and sort of Lambert type agreements for how negotiations and expectations are managed when you’re dealing with investors on both sides, because you know that can sometimes be a mismatch.

We’ve actually had very good experiences, I’d say certainly with the UK VC community and the US, they’ve invested in Apollo Therapeutics. So for example, you know, that was very much a UK initiative. And the underlying investor, when it turned into a biotech company, was a US investor.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

You know, the comments you’re making remind me that it’s, it’s a really complex ecosystem. There’s lots of different players, big venture capital, seed capital, technology transfer companies, technology transfer offices and often our commercialisation also because the academic work that preceded it is international, involves multiple partners.

And I think when we think about talking about it, some of those components of the ecosystem have, shall we say, their own vested interests in a particular story, if you like, but also all of them actually legitimately have slightly different objectives and slightly different purposes. So sometimes the community perhaps can’t speak as well as it could be with one voice.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I think that’s so true.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Hopefully our success is kind of driving that, that convergence where we can be a bit clearer about what our goals are and what our successes are and also what our challenges and opportunities are.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I agree, and I think that’s the role, if you like, of a TTO or whatever a university might have, because they try and match those different worlds. You’ve also got the government looking at what it wants. Investors who want to make a return, they’ve got shareholders, they’ve got to make a return on their money. So they’re focused in one way.

The university might be focused in another way. We’re focused in a different way, but we have to bring all of those different groups together.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

That’s right. And I think the neck is not trying to make everyone’s interests exactly the same. It’s about recognising that the different components of the ecosystem have those different interests and wherever possible, just tweaking and aligning the ecosystem. It reminds me of what we started to do in the university over a decade ago when we started to think, okay, so if we want to do biological therapies, what are the components of the pipeline that takes us from this really interesting fundamental research to a point where, where UCL Business might look at it and say that’s something we can commercialise and turn into a world leading company.

It’s thinking about the large and the small, the different elements and somehow conducting that orchestra. Maybe I’m mixing my metaphors now between ecosystems and orchestras, but it’s something like that, isn’t it? That we’ve got to do. And that’s a super complicated task compared to just inverted commas, educating our students or delivering research outputs.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Yeah, I think it is, and it’s a very strange job actually. So when you try to describe what you do, it’s actually quite hard.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Well it doesn’t work so well at parties, does it?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Really doesn’t work at parties. No. I mean you are in a corner at parties, I can tell you. I think as we said right at the beginning, the landscape has changed dramatically. And so while somebody might listen to this might think it’s all doom and gloom, although I’m not sure they would, I don’t think it is.

I think it’s really positive. I think even with the economic landscape we’ve got at the moment, and with the world’s as a whole, having that commercial process in place actually can help all of those challenges that currently face the world. And we talked about climate change at the beginning and one of our companies, Carbon Re, is working towards that, to reduce carbon emissions of concrete production.

It’s a realistic approach because they’re not looking at trying to change things overnight and stopping anyone using concrete because that’s just not realistic. It’s gradually phasing in but making it making a real world difference. And I think that’s that’s one of the key areas that we can make a real difference to.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Yeah, that research and scholarship is, is the exit strategy, isn’t it, for solving many of the challenges facing humanity. Of course it’s not necessarily a technical solution. There are also social sciences and the other and the arts and humanities that have to be brought to bear in that. So I think that also says that our role in having an impact on the world is to try and bring together all of those.

So we have technical experts like Carbon Re working on concrete, which I was never aware was one of the world’s major energy intensive industries before I understood it, but also the broader group of individuals who can work on climate crisis more generally.

So thinking about the future and what do you see for UCL Business? What’s the next 30 years going to be like?

 

Dr Anne Lane:

That’s a big question. I think the fact that we’ve now seen real tangible benefits back to the company means that we can expand, which is one of the things I said at the beginning. We do need more resources within the company so that we can maximise what we find at UCL and then make the most of it.

I really want to expand our focus to look at engineering, to look at computer science. We’re already seeing some benefits from that, but I think we could see a lot more and our investment fund is actually moving in a similar way. They want actually to have a more diverse portfolio themselves. Clearly as investors, that’s really what they’re after.

But, what I’d really like, is that having extra resources is not just financially means that we can look at things that actually aren’t hard nosed commercial, so we want to generate impact. That’s what we really want to do. That is financial. Everybody likes a financial impact, but having a social impact as well is very important and being able to do things in the social enterprise area.

I think I want to engage more of our academics to work with us because it speaks to their interests too. That in itself could generate more commercial opportunities because it starts people thinking in a different way. But I think being able to look at some of those social enterprises which might not generate a profit, you know, you reinvest the money into the company.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

They still have to be financially sustainable.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

They still have to be financially sustainable.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

Just a different way of investing the profits back into the company.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

Exactly. But it doesn’t generate the types of returns that we might see from an Achilles, for instance, or an Autolus. And being able to do that is really important, I think not just to me but to the whole of UCLB.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

And that and that sort of thing is important to UCL as well because our primary motivation is impact rather than income. We are of course an organisation that has to have income because that supports our activity. We’re a charity, of course, like all universities in the UK, so we’re not averse to a bit of income and we really like that UCLB is profitable.

But at the same time our own portfolio is one of balance and that balance is about recognising that impact comes in many different forms and many different diverse areas and maximising that is going to maximise our positive benefits on the world, which isn’t to take away, as I say, from profitability, but there’s more to life, I think, than just profitability.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s been fascinating talking to you. I see you in board meetings, but I don’t always get the chance to have a one on one chat.

 

Professor Geraint Rees:

It’s absolute pleasure. Likewise, to be able to talk about these important and interesting things. So thank you.

 

Dr Anne Lane:

That’s fantastic. And I think that was a great start to our 30th anniversary podcast series.

So it just remains for me to thank our listeners today. I hope you enjoyed that discussion with Professor Rees. Our next episode will be with Carbon Re, one of the companies that is helping to reduce the world’s carbon footprint. They will be in discussion with Mark Harding, who is a senior business manager at UCLB.