Uzma Choudry joined the Octopus Ventures team earlier this year. Previously she worked with the University of Manchester’s Innovation Company while doing a PhD in Biochemistry and Optogenetics. Uzma tells us how she spends her work days, her passion for ‘deep tech’ startups, and the importance of winding down now and then.
What’s your job title?
I’m an Investment Analyst with Octopus Ventures. As a recent arrival, I’m also attending a number of training programmes, like financial accounting, financial modelling and valuations.
How long have you been with Octopus?
I joined the team in April 2018. Before this, I worked with the University of Manchester’s Innovation Company (UMI3) while doing my PhD. This involved exploring the commercial potential of the cutting-edge research coming out of the university. Tech transfer – how academic innovations can be spun out into successful businesses – is a key interest of mine.
Describe your role
My main focus as an investment analyst is on sourcing and originating new deals. This means looking in detail at start-up companies that are seeking funds to take their business to the next stage.
Octopus Ventures will invest anything from £350,000 right up to £25 million, so there’s a huge range of opportunities to assess. I’m looking for details on the team, the technology, the market and the company’s financials. I’ll sometimes visit a company to meet the team and see working demos of products or new technologies. This teaches me a lot about the business and its platform.
Given the large number of start-up companies we look at, we’re often turning companies down. It’s very important to us that we do this in as helpful a way as possible, so rather than just a flat “no”, I’ll maybe introduce them to potential contacts in the industry, or other venture capitalists who might be more suited to them.
For the companies we want to learn more about, the next stage will be a formal pitch meeting. Part of my role is to arrange and lead some of these meetings, then respond and give feedback to the company and the wider Octopus team.
I also spend time meeting with industry experts. These may be other investment firms or academics. Talking to them helps identify any synergies that might be developed. Along with Luke Hakes, one of the partners here at Octopus Ventures, I am involved with Graphene Enabled Systems and the University of Manchester Innovation Company. Graphene is a Nobel Prize-winning technology with incredible commercial potential. These accelerator organisations are designed to help new technologies make the leap into viable companies that will bring them out into the public domain.
‘Pods’ are specialist groups within Octopus Ventures. Mine is the Future of Industry pod and we look closely at deep-tech businesses, which are companies that are looking to monetise technology based on tangible engineering innovation or groundbreaking scientific discoveries. We discuss individual businesses, deals we are considering and our pod’s broader investment strategy.
Some workdays end with a networking event. These are a great way of gaining sector and industry knowledge, meeting businesses, investors, industry specialists and academics.
“I’m learning new things every day. Not only do I get to grapple with the science behind the new technologies shaping our future, but I’m learning about the way in which the world of investments, private equity, venture capital and start-ups combine to create incredible new companies.”
Uzma Choudry, Octopus Ventures
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m looking at deep-tech startups. This means I’m exposed to a diverse range of really exciting technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence), intelligent robotics, biotechnology and self-driving vehicles (read more about ‘deep tech’ here). These are incredibly exciting, fast-moving fields of innovation and the businesses emerging from them are just as fascinating. I’m learning new things every day. Not only do I get to grapple with the science behind the new technologies shaping our future, but I’m learning about the way in which the world of investments, private equity, venture capital and start-ups combine to create incredible new companies.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Being exposed to a huge range of exciting technologies and meeting founding teams who are passionate about their start-ups. Entrepreneurs are always interesting people to meet.
What do you love about working at Octopus?
The culture and team dynamic at Octopus stood out to me when I joined. It aligned very well with my values and personality. We have a flat structure and a “one-team” mentality with a big emphasis on effective and thoughtful feedback and it is always well received and appreciated.
There’s a real appetite for challenge here, which means that I feel on the edge of my comfort zone about 90% of the time, but this brings with it a great sense of achievement and growth. I was thrilled to be trusted with real responsibility from day one, with the full backing of my manager, pod and the entire team here in London and in New York.
Who do you interact with on a daily basis?
Generally, I interact with my team (Octopus Ventures), entrepreneurs, other investors, experts within the industry and academics. Meetings will range from informal chats over the phone or a coffee, to more formal team and pitch meetings. I have internal meetings with my manager, pod and mentor on a regular basis.
The meetings with my manager are an opportunity to discuss my objectives and targets. They’re also a chance to pass on any information or insights I will have gathered during the week. This is dedicated time I really value. We’re a busy team and regular communication is vital to keep us working effectively.
What do you do to relax when you’re not working?
If I’m not attending a networking event after work I like to hit the gym for a couple of hours. I enjoy weight training and boxing, which allow me to let off steam and get some head-space. Recently, I have taken on running at least once a week and try to get a 10k in over the weekend.
Although we’re discouraged from working late in the evenings, I’ll often answer a few emails at home, having had the time to think through a response. I’ll maybe scan technology articles in academic or tech journals to share with the extended team and read articles other team members have posted.
I like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts – on rotation to keep things interesting. Currently, I’m listening to The Hard Thing about Hard Things; Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology; Thinking, Fast and Slow; Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion; plus The Twenty Minute VC and The Panpsycast (philosophy) podcasts.
What’s the best piece of advice someone at Octopus has given you?
Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Our team values are to be bold, helpful and straightforward, so, when my manager gave this advice it clicked at once.
Interested in a career at Octopus? Visit our Careers section