Radical Reads

Raquel Urtasun on Entrepreneurship in Uncertain Times

By Radical Editorial


Last year we set out to create a platform to help Artificial Intelligence researchers become entrepreneurs, and to build a like-minded community. Centred around the Radical Ventures AI Founders Master Class, this community has grown to over 1,000 researchers from around the globe. Our Master Class (in partnership with the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Alberta Institute for Machine Intelligence), includes conversations with AI luminaries about how to make the leap from researcher to entrepreneur. Following this year’s 4-week Master Class program, 83% of participants claimed to feel confident about starting a business, up from 37% at the outset of the program.

This week we share an excerpt of our conversation with Raquel Urtasun, CEO and Founder of the AI-first self-driving company, Waabi. Raquel has had a tremendous impact on the global AI ecosystem as a pioneer in AI and as a co-founder of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence. She spoke with Radical Ventures Partner Salim Teja. The following discussion is edited for length and clarity. 


Salim Teja (ST): After running Waabi for a year and a half, what did you find that you were not prepared for professionally or personally?

Raquel Urtasun (RU): Because I founded the company by myself, and it’s the first company that I’ve founded, there have been so many skills to learn on the job. I did learn a lot previously as a professor, and as an executive at Uber ATG, but it has definitely been a challenge.

I’m an introspective person, so every day I look back on what I have done and ask, “how can I do it better?” And then I keep working to improve. Building a company is such a hard, but an exciting, thing. You should put all of your soul into it or you shouldn’t do it.


ST: You previously described founding a company as a roller coaster journey. How do you deal with that?

RU: I became an entrepreneur because I didn’t think the industry was going to solve the self-driving problem. For me, this is my life passion. I won’t stop until there are self-driving vehicles everywhere. So, I care a lot about the company. Understanding that your behaviour is going to affect the team is important. You need to be calm. It might not be in your nature to be calm, but no matter which fires are out there, handling them in the background is important to keep the team stable, excited, and moving forward. A thick skin takes time to develop, but it’s an important quality.


ST: What advice would you give to those considering entrepreneurship?

RU: Start building your network. To start, for those here in the Master Class, you’re part of this community with people who are going to be successful. In the beginning of my career, I was a shy person and I didn’t think people would want to talk to me or hear what I had to say. This was all wrong.

Get outside of your comfort zone and talk to those who have done it before. Entrepreneurship is not: I have an idea, so I found a company, get some funding, get acquired, and become a millionaire. That’s not what it is when you aspire to build something that will transform the world.


If you are an AI researcher interested in entrepreneurship, the Radical Ventures AI Founders community offers members an opportunity to join conversations with AI pioneers and access to practical seminars and resources designed to support entrepreneurs looking to commercialize their research.

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Radical Reads is edited by Leah Morris (Senior Director, Velocity Program, Radical Ventures).