Get to know First Believer Tom McQuillen

Bronte McHenry
April 29, 2021
Tom McQuillen

Location? Lennox Head, New South Wales.

Socials? Twitter and LinkedIn.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve just started my investing career at ReGen Ventures, Australia’s first dedicated climate-tech venture capital firm.

I’m a hopeless optimist. I think the technology, talent and ambition exists out there, that will allow us to hit net-zero emissions without sacrificing the continued improvement of living standards.

Prior to ReGen I worked as an operator at startups in both Australia and the UK. I started my career in consulting, but realised that wasn’t for me and hit the road, eventually winding up running an eco-tourism business in Nicaragua.

I’m stoked to have landed back in Australia after a couple of years in Oxford. I now live in Lennox Head and our office motto is ‘wetsuits, not suits’. I feel like I’ve really found my place.

What interesting spaces are you looking at, and why?

I’m really obsessed with the possibilities in synthetic biology and fermentation right now.

Essentially, there is a heap of stuff that we produce now in a way that is pretty bad for the environment — this ranges from rearing animals for meat, growing crops like cotton for clothing and making plastic from petrochemicals.

We’ve had a heap of recent advances in science and technology that are now allowing us to produce this stuff using little microbial factories or cell-based breweries.

This allows us to produce emission free meat, leather, coffee, chocolate, cotton… even bioplastics made from seaweed! More than that, we can customise and improve these products too, fortifying foods or removing harmful cholesterol for example.

There are so many startups building products that may end up cheaper, healthier and so much more sustainable, transforming industries from food to fashion to packaging. And importantly, they are attracting so much amazing talent — brilliant coders and scientists.

What’s the most interesting startup you’ve come across since becoming a First Believer? Why?

We were lucky enough to spend some time with the team from Vexev Vascular, and for me, that really reinforced what I love about being part of the startup ecosystem.

It’s positive sum! You have people like Eamonn and John who are creating something from nothing, growing the size of the economic pie for everyone and also having a significant impact on our lives.

Vexev are building non-invasive medical imaging tech that will ultimately help prevent strokes, heart attacks and other vascular diseases. It’s hard work to build a business in that space but they have achieved so much already and just seem to be going from strength to strength. Absolute legends.

What will the Aussie startup ecosystem look like in 10 years?

I think the Australian startup ecosystem is about to hit a massive inflection point and really launch to the next level.

We’ve seen the same thing happen in Europe, which is probably a few years ahead of us.

We have the next wave of brilliant startups such as Canva, Culture Amp, Safety Culture, Afterpay and Airwallex approaching potential exits.

This will unleash a wave of talent and capital, founders and angel investors starting new companies or executives who have rocketship experience helping the next wave of unicorns.

I think in 10 years there’s going to be a really mature, thriving ecosystem here.

How did First Believers alter your trajectory?

I think my biggest takeaway from First Believers has been the honeypot concept.

Capital is a commodity, but on its own it’s not enough. You really have to put yourself out there and create value, whether it’s publicly talking about what’s lighting you up, or privately helping with recruiting or investor introductions.

Investing is a long-term game, so you want to think about building flywheels that allow you not just to find great companies, but actually help them succeed.

What advice would you give someone about to go through the First Believers program?

Batko says ‘it’s a buffet, not a set menu’ (or something like that). Take the time to do the homework, to review companies, provide feedback and put your hand up for whatever comes up.

It’s a pretty unique opportunity to meet some of the best angels and VCs in ANZ, and you will get so much more out of it if you are prepared… so put in the work.

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