Welcome to our Alumni Spotlight Series. These stories will seek to update our community on the accomplishments of our very talented alumni network. We all have found varying degrees of success in our career paths thus far and we can learn from one another about what works, what doesn’t work, and how we can all continue to solve today’s Gaps in biotechnology. If you have someone in mind (including yourself) please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victor Bustos (GapSummit 2016) was drawn to the GapSummit by a desire shared by many Leaders of Tomorrow. In the last year of his PhD, he was considering a career in academia or industry. Being less familiar with the industry side, he was curious to learn more about the world of biotech and, more importantly, discover what kind of people worked in that space. Victor’s PhD lab was interested in understanding how aging can be modulated and how nutrient sensing and signaling could actually be beneficial for aging. The goal of his PhD thesis was to dissect how the transcription factor FOXO is differentially involved in diverse biological processes, including aging, metabolism, and wound healing. Victor and his team were seeking to understand the very basic biology of this tissue-specific regulation.
Q: Why did you want to go to GapSummit back in 2016?
Victor: I felt it [the GapSummit] was the perfect place to learn more about the industry, and I was absolutely right. Once there, I found myself surrounded by extraordinary people. Everyone there was trying to leverage biotechnology for the benefit of us all.
The summit helped make the decision of ‘what to do next’ easier. It showed me that there is a community of ambitious people that are not afraid of asking tough questions and aiming high to solve them. People who want to work to change the future.
That was simply too good for me to just let go, I had to be a part of it.
Q: As an expert in aging biology, what sort of job market did you think there was for you after your PhD?
Victor: After my PhD, I could have either continued in academia, moved to a biotech, or taken a more entrepreneurial route. In my 2nd and 3rd year of my PhD, I started to get more and more interested in startups. I loved the process of developing an idea from the ground up. However, I didn’t want to stop being involved in aging research. Moreover, aging has not traditionally been a therapeutic target. It wasn’t really considered a disease. Luckily for me, this mentality has been changing over recent years, and a number of companies have started to get interested in developing therapeutics to target aging. The interest in aging research has exploded among the general public, and both individuals and corporations are willing to invest in the development of technologies targeting aging. All these events worked great together to show me a clear path of what I wanted. Therefore, I decided to apply for an entrepreneur-in-residence program at Apollo Ventures, a VC firm that focuses on developing therapeutics against the hallmarks of aging.
Q: Building an idea from the ground up seems to be something that is applicable to academia. What do you think the differences are between that notion in academia (as a postdoc) versus at a startup or VC firm?
Victor: The postdoc would have given me similar degrees of freedom in developing an idea from a ground up. One of the main differences, however, is that you are thinking 3-4 years to the end of your hypothesis (in academia) versus 6-10 years down the road into clinical trials (at a startup or VC firm). There are a lot of things that are interesting, but if you don’t have a clear plan to test this in humans you will not pursue such an effort in biotech. You need to think much deeper into what’s going on, what is being tested at the moment, and what could you be doing that would make a difference in the long run.
Victor left the GapSummit with a clear desire to join the world of entrepreneurial biotech- sound familiar? Most of us leave the summit feeling enamored with biotech and the tantalizing idea of making a difference in the world. A positive can-do attitude and our sparkling CVs can only get us so far. What is the final boost to get us where we want to go?
It is a term we are all intimately familiar with. Networking. Whether you are a PhD student looking for your postdoc lab, an academic scientist looking for a home in industry, or a member of a sales and marketing team looking for the next big client, it often comes down to who you know. From a sales perspective, cold calling has a roughly 2% success rate while referrals (another version of networking) typically convert 50% of the time. So the question becomes, how do you get yourself out there?
Q: What does networking mean to you?
Victor: ’Uf’, that’s a great question. Networking can be an actionable thing like starting a conversation, but to me networking is not being afraid of reaching out. Networking is being open to the possibility of learning new things. Opening a door for infinite possibilities. A little bit like Schrödinger’s cat, you know? You need to open the “box” to figure out what’s inside.
Q: What is your strategy when it comes to networking?
Victor: My general thought on networking is, I believe, very simple. Introduce myself and ask questions. People are inherently interesting. Hence, by interacting with other people, asking questions, not only work related, and listening with intent, I can maximize my chances of learning new things and, of course, meeting great people. Because of this, I might be able to provide an opinion or ask for advice right then and there or perhaps at some time point in the future. My general strategy is based on that.
Everyone has something interesting to say as long as you are willing to listen closely.
Q: What experiences did you take away from the GapSummit? Did the summit help you with your networking skills?
Victor: I think the whole event was well organized, from the discussion panels to the VoT competition. However, the networking within the summit was, in my eyes, simply the best. From dinner at an Italian place with 25 people, all sharing thoughts and experiences, to taking a tour around Cambridge and discussing the latest biotech news. I think that, by providing these highly motivated people with an environment for them to share and discuss their ideas, GBR further encourages them to keep pursuing those tough goals they are after. It certainly did for me.
Q: Did you use your network to get your job at Apollo Ventures?
Victor: I didn't use my network to get the job at Apollo. Well, at least not directly. Perhaps indirectly. I heard about them because they contacted my lab, because of who my mentor was. At the end of 2017 they [Apollo] had started to reach out to some prominent aging research labs, to try and recruit people for their new “Venture Fellow” program. This entrepreneur-in-residence position offered the possibility of working from inside Apollo to identify exciting research and try to partner with scientists to accelerate that transition from discovery to a therapeutic. Among the labs they reached out to was my former lab at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging (the lab of Prof. Linda Partridge). In their email, Apollo explained how they were looking for motivated and independent people that wanted to start companies to tackle aging. Of course, they also wanted people that had a strong background in aging research. To me, it felt that the only thing missing on that list was my name! I did talk with some people in my network to have a better grasp of what an entrepreneur-in-residence does. This was actually really helpful, and it helped me define that was exactly what I wanted.
Q: Have you stayed in contact with people you met during the GapSummit? Do you think the GBR community can be a good resource for networking?
Victor: For sure! I try to stay up to date with the news and events related to GBR and the people I met during the summit. In addition, I have reached out to a couple of people to either discuss an idea, ask for a favor, ask for an introduction to someone else, or simply ask how things are going. A handful of people have also reached out to me for the same reasons, which I think is great. I feel the network of people GBR is creating is always willing to help, so I would encourage everyone to reach out. For example, a GapSummit alumni based in Australia saw what we [Apollo] were doing and reached out to discuss the science he was doing as a postdoc. He wanted to hear about my experience at Apollo to see if that was a career path that would interest him.
I advertised some jobs offers at Apollo and our Portfolio companies among the GapSummit alumni. Thanks to this, a couple of people contacted me and one of them successfully applied for a fellowship position. He was hired and started in March.
Q: What advice would you (now) give yourself (back when you attended the GapSummit) to expedite your career development?
Victor: Honestly, I think the best advice I would give myself would be to network even more.
I feel that every idea shared or discussed can lead to great conversations, insights, and possibilities.
Please feel free to reach out to talk more to Victor about his career path, his networking strategies, and more! You can contact him through LinkedIn or learn more about Apollo Ventures on their website.
Interview by CJ Anderson, GBR Alumni Development Manager