Young Chinese venture capitalist eyes powerful Silicon Valley fund
Zhang Lu, founder and managing partner of NewGen Capital, feels unworthy of lavish praise despite being named by Forbes as one of the leading young change-makers and innovators in the United States.
The 27-year-old is too focused on the future to bask in glory.
“My goal is to establish a top-tier venture capital fund in Silicon Valley, with China playing a leading role,” she said. “Banking on the rise of China and its further development, I hope to realise it in five to 10 years with my best endeavours.”
Zhang is a rare phenomenon: a female Silicon Valley venture capitalist from China.
At the beginning of 2017, she made it onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of young elites, which describes itself as offering “an opportunity to embrace the optimism, inventiveness and boldness of youth”.
After graduating in materials science in 2010 at Tianjin University, Zhang moved on to earn a masters degree at Stanford. She applied her work with nano-thin biosensors to build a new medical device for testing for Type II diabetes as part of her entrepreneurship class.
She later sold the company that emerged from that project for more than US$10 million.
Zhang then joined Fenox Venture Capital as a partner, participating in more than 20 investments and assisting with the mergers and acquisitions of firms in the portfolio.
“VC [venture capital] deals broadened my horizon,” she said. “I learned a lot about the tech world and couldn’t help digging further into it.”
Zhang set up NewGen Capital in 2014 and has so far raised two multi-million-dollar funds focusing on early-stage tech companies in the US.
NewGen has made about 40 investments into companies ranging from precision medicine, next-generation computing and disruptive mobile technologies to connected industry, artificial intelligence and cyber security.
“The US has the best technologies in the world and China has the largest market,” Zhang said. “A synergy created between the two countries is desirable.
“A great company has to develop with the tide, and you won’t survive if you attempt to make a tide by yourself.”
NewGen has invested in WhoKnows, a machine-learning startup whose technology allows instant collaboration between employees in any of their favourite tools without the need for complicated integration.
It also has a stake in Paradromics, a developer of devices that make fluent brain-machine interactions possible for the development of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.
As Zhang goes about trying to create a powerful Silicon Valley venture capitalist giant that could one day rival such giants as Sequoia, she considers her Chinese heritage an advantage.
“We have knowledge about China and I believe I can act as a go-to person for those who want to access the vast Chinese market,” Zhang said. “Without a correct understanding of the Chinese market, tech transfer is extremely difficult since you can’t commercialise the innovations without enough data collection and insights into consumer demands.”
Under Beijing’s Internet Plus strategy, companies are being encouraged to increase their use of the latest information technologies to help transform the slowing economy into a new model driven by consumer spending and entrepreneurial vigour.
A rising number of mainland institutional and corporate investors are setting their sights on technological innovations in Silicon Valley.
“The future is unpredictable but my goal is clear,” Zhang said. “I want to learn more and pay something back to my motherland.”