Entrepreneur Raymond Yeung is a firm believer in overcoming risks in order to create opportunities Investment is all about gauging the balance between risk and opportunity, and when Raymond Yeung Wing-keung first sought advice on taking a stake in a chicken farm in northern China, the weight of opinion came down firmly on one side. Most friends, colleagues and potential backers could see the risks from a mile away and had no hesitation in elaborating on this. Avian flu could strike at any time; China's food safety and hygiene standards were too unreliable; and the idea of selling a high-quality brand of eggs in the mainland's domestic market just didn't make sense. 'It is always easy to find reasons not to invest,' says Mr Yeung, executive director of Innobiz Capital, the firm he set up in 2006 specifically to explore venture capital projects. 'There are different perspectives about the market for anything, but the key is not to stop at the point where you discover the risks. 'You must find out how to overcome them in order to create the opportunity.' So, undeterred, he took a closer look. With the help of contacts made during a 15-year career that had spanned engineering, banking, IT, business development, and mergers and acquisitions in China, he went over every aspect of the farm's operations with a fine-tooth comb. It had been running since 2000, was selling eggs under its own Deqingyuan brand in supermarkets in Beijing, had consistently focused on environmental protection and animal welfare, and put no hormones in the chicken feedstock. Standard due diligence and financial checks showed that the numbers generally stacked up, and the management team seemed on the ball and ambitious. Their objective was to expand production dramatically and, in the longer term, build a nationwide sales and marketing network. All that was missing was the injection of capital to get things rolling. Convinced by the plan and the prospects, Mr Yeung stepped in. After lining up several individual investors and teaming up with the World Bank-affiliated International Finance Corporation, he took about a 10 per cent stake. In the process, he also completed his personal transition from former corporate employee to fully-fledged entrepreneur. 'For any investment, it is a judgment call on how it will work,' he says. 'It depends on how you see the so-called risk areas and whether or not you keep asking questions about what policies the company has in place to minimise and manage those risks.' He admits that, as a first major project, developments with Deqingyuan could hardly have gone better. 'It was a lucky break. No one had been responding to that opportunity, but you get a feel for an industry and whether a particular project is sustainable if you go deep enough when talking to the people.' In recent months, production has been upped from 300,000 to more than 1million eggs a day, market share has increased, new outlets have been added, and the brand is now on sale in supermarkets in Hong Kong. Significantly, after undergoing an exhaustive series of audits, the company has also been approved as the sole official supplier of eggs for the Beijing Olympics, and the Global Environment Fund has been brought on board as an additional investor to help with the conversion of methane gas from chicken waste into electricity. Since concluding the initial deal, Mr Yeung has stuck to the blueprint and successfully repeated the formula. His preferred modus operandi is to look for 'simple' projects with an everyday element. In that way, he finds it possible to form instinctive views about the likely market and to have a 'bond with the product'. 'It is so much easier if the business is fulfilling people's needs and the product is 'within reach' for us and the investors.' The second step is to analyse in detail the presumed core competencies, valuations and competitive advantages of the company under consideration, if necessary bringing in external consultants to assist. A guiding principle is that each investment should be long-term, not cashed in for a quick profit after a couple of years. And to emphasise this commitment, Mr Yeung puts in some of his own money and negotiates for board representation. 'It is essential to have that, so we know the status of the company, the issues, the problems, and can also help build it up. That is a quite an involvement. Overall, we want to set a pattern of investing in two companies a year in different industries but would rather look for quality than to rush things.' Two recent ventures have typified this approach. One involved taking a minority stake in Visionmedia, an outdoor media company in Shanghai which sells screens and does advertising brokerage. Another, in Ningbo, develops biodegradable material from a corn starch base through a pioneering fermentation process. The raw material produced in the form of powder or pellets will potentially replace plastics for many everyday uses. In each case, appropriate terms and funding packages were put together with advice from auditors, lawyers and a company secretary, before putting a proposal forward to interested investors. Depending on the scenario, prospective returns would come from a combination of commission, management fees, dividends - ideally generated within two to three years - and somewhere ahead, a possible IPO. 'It is a very fundamental responsibility to make sure that the people who put in the money understand the risks and opportunities of this kind of investment,' Mr Yeung says. 'So I sit down with everyone to see if it is suitable for them. Otherwise it is not a sustainable relationship.' He adds that these relationships can be with companies looking to diversify or, often, with wealthy professionals keen to invest in China. Many want a greater sense of involvement than they get from buying mutual funds or playing the stock market. 'There are many people like that in Hong Kong,' Mr Yeung says. 'When you start to talk through a concept, sometimes it just clicks with them. Some jump really fast, and may see that they can add value as well.' Now that Mr Yeung has something of a track record, there is no shortage of proposals arriving, though the quality varies considerably. One might start as no more than a few thoughts scribbled by a chief executive during lunch; the other could be presented as a full-blown corporate plan covering the next five or 10 years, stating precisely how extra working capital will be put to use. 'For each project we have various models and an idea of the multiplier at the time we might exit, but overall we are looking at the long term,' he says. 'My mission is to build, so that the companies can grow in the good times and are resilient in the bad. The question you always ask yourself is how to achieve that.' The plan for Innobiz, over the next two years at least, is to focus firmly on the mainland. With a pipeline now in place, Mr Yeung is confident that there will be ample opportunity for investors prepared to take minority stakes, make a genuine contribution to the target business, and steer clear of strategic industries. 'For us, I think the investment theme is still China. To some extent, that means it will be not too easy and not too difficult.'