Highlights from HyLight: A Conversation with Founder Thomas Laporte

Co-founder Thomas Laporte delves into his entrepreneurial journey and the evolution of HyLight from SkyDeck to Y Combinator and beyond.


June 10, 2024


Co-founder Thomas Laporte smiles for a headshot with a dark background
Thomas Laporte. Photo courtesy of hylight.aero.

Thomas Laporte joined the SCET community in the spring of 2022 after participating in the Le Bridge Startup Fellows Program, hosted by Berkeley in collaboration with Emlyon Business School, where Laporte received his master’s degree in management. Here, Laporte met his future co-founders and set the foundation for HyLight, a company building Hydrogen-powered airship drones for long-range monitoring of pipelines and power lines. 

Since then, HyLight was accepted into Y Combinator in the spring batch of 2023 as one of two hardware companies and raised nearly $4M in their recent round of seed funding. We followed up with co-founder Thomas Laporte to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey and the evolution of HyLight from an idea to a full-fledged company.

From Business Law to Entrepreneurship

However, Laporte did not always know that he wanted to pursue entrepreneurship in a professional capacity. Before starting his entrepreneurial journey, he studied business law at a top law university in Paris, France, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law. It was not until he met passionate legal tech founders that he realized his interest in entrepreneurship. 

“By meeting legal tech entrepreneurs who were previously lawyers…I really felt something when they were talking about their projects, and this kind of energy really resonated with me. At that time, I did not know why I was truly studying law. The only thing that I knew was that I wanted to keep myself open to as many possibilities as possible.”

From there, Laporte decided to pivot from law to entrepreneurship, receiving admission to Emlyon Business School, the most entrepreneurial business school in France, where he would receive his introduction to Berkeley SCET and the rest of Silicon Valley. 

“Everything clicked…All the people around me wanted to be entrepreneurs. They all had the same energy. That was something that I lacked previously, even in business school. I wanted to find other people like me who wanted to build stuff.”
After meeting his co-founders through the Le Bridge Startup Fellow Program, the team got to work. Following the program’s conclusion in May 2022, HyLight was accepted into Berkeley SkyDeck Europe in its inaugural batch, marking the commencement of HyLight as a company and Laporte’s journey as an entrepreneur.

Insights on Successes and Setbacks

When asked about the joys and setbacks that come with being a founder of an early-stage startup, Laporte noted the constant fluctuation of joys and setbacks as a startup founder and the importance of not losing focus. Setbacks are integral to the startup experience. Laporte believes that the key to bouncing back after rejection is to stay focused on the most fundamental aspects of the company: the mission, clients, and the value created. 

“You have very high highs and very low lows. I take a little bit of distance from setbacks because we had so many setbacks that this new one isn’t going to kill us. The only thing that will harm us is losing track of what is important: the value we’re creating for our clients and the mission that we’ve targeted.”

When asked about the traits of a successful entrepreneur, Laporte believes that entrepreneurs must embrace a humble approach to learning from their mistakes and mitigating their biases. Entrepreneurs must learn to bounce back from setbacks extremely quickly and identify the source of the issue at hand. Learning to abandon a sense of personal failure and embrace the position of the learner is critical to progress. Secondly, Laporte reminds aspiring entrepreneurs that no one truly knows how events will unfold. Entrepreneurs must learn to make decisions quickly and feel comfortable taking risks. 

“We have so many third-party people telling us what to do. If we give them all the same situation, somebody will advise us to do A, somebody will tell us to do B, and somebody else will tell us to do C. A successful entrepreneur needs to realize that no one is going to give them the right answer – you need to create it. You need to make decisions sometimes when it’s dark and you have no idea what’s going to work or not, but you need to make a decision in order to go forward.” 

Laporte then describes the unique role of the Berkeley entrepreneurial community mentorship in transforming HyLight from a concept to a company. He particularly appreciated the innovative, risk-embracing, and supportive culture of Silicon Valley. He is especially appreciative of the mentorship the team received throughout their time within the Berkeley ecosystem, noting Marc Tarpenning, co-founder of Tesla Inc. and UC Berkeley alum, in particular.

“What’s amazing about Silicon Valley and UC Berkeley is that you can contact anyone and say, ‘Hey! I really like what you’re doing. I’d love to be able to talk with you for 15 minutes.’ And people say yes – and that’s amazing.”

The Future of HyLight 

At the end of the day, Laporte’s goal is to have a positive impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next five years, he hopes that HyLight will be able to reduce the use of helicopters to gather data from the air, as well as decrease methane emissions in the gas sector in both European and American markets. 

The HyLight team poses in front of the HyLighter, their hydrogen-powered airship drone outside in a natural environment
The HyLight team poses in front of the HyLighter, their hydrogen-powered airship drone.