Revealed – how this pioneering investor through her hunger to change the world for the better has sparked the China healthtech boom and is now managing billions in assets and shaping the success of hundreds of startups.
You would expect some financial mantra to be the secret of success for a renowned investor managing over USD4 billion in assets and investments in over 330 companies while also being credited with being a pioneer in building up today’s multibillion healthtech market in China.
But not for Nisa Leung, managing partner of Qiming Venture Partners and the Venture Capital Professional of the Year in 2017 named by Asian Venture Capital Journal and Forbes Midas Top Global 100 investor in 2019. Instead her inspiration and motivation is simply to do good. “We look for technologies that can actually help people, we invest in companies that can genuinely help change lives and healthcare is where this is most apparent,” she said.
While other venture capitalists are jumping into areas like mobile games, the companies that she and Qiming have invested in include CanSino Biologics the first and only company in China that is developing an Ebola vaccine and taking this to the unfolding crisis in Congo. “We’re working with people that are doing this for the better of mankind,” said Leung.
HK10X Pioneering Moment:
Credited with being a pioneer in building up today’s multibillion healthtech market in China and named by Asian Venture Capital Journal as the Venture Capital Professional of the Year in 2017
Another firm in Leung’s stable of world-changing startups is a Chinese cochlear implant company which creates devices that stimulate human audio sensors to aid children who are born deaf to hear and speak for the first time. Such implants currently cost USD25,000 a year for an individual child, while Leung’s portfolio company is looking to supply this technology at USD10,000 a year to the 21 million deaf people in China according to the China Disabled Persons Federation, plus millions more worldwide.
Many might smirk at this ‘feel good’ approach. But for this renowned Hong Kong female venture capitalist that has triumphed in the typically male-dominated world, the simple reasons of doing good and creating genuine sustained social impact are why she and her firm decided in 2002 to start building up from scratch the healthtech opportunity in China. Much of this motivation stems from her cancer-stricken uncle in China and the family’s futile search for adequate treatments on the mainland. The search took her to the US and from there she assumed the challenge providing others with more access to US and western medical treatments.
“By far my biggest challenge was starting this journey--there was no eco-system, few investors and only one or two patent lawyers focused on heath and biotech in the whole of China,” said Leung. Add to this the so-called ‘healthtech valley of death’ effect which sees health device investments take a minimum of eight years to see initial returns and even longer for new drugs, the challenge to build out the healthtech opportunity was enormous.
"20 years ago there were no global big pharma R&D centers in China. Today, every big pharma firm has opened up R&D centers in the last 15 years."
She recalls that 20 years ago there were no global big pharma R&D centers in China. Today, every big pharma firm has opened up R&D centers in the last 15 years to develop branded generics or drugs that have big potential markets in China but not innovative drugs. The opening of innovation labs has become more prevalent in recent months, such as those recently opened by Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson.
Qiming was one of the few early venture capital firms focused on healthcare, while today there are hundreds, noted Leung. “But what we believe and what we are hearing from conferences in Boston and others is that China is the solution to affordable healthcare for the world,” said Leung.
Leung’s philosophy is to look to the wider possibilities and it is this bigger vison and the hunger to truly help others that has always spurred Leung in her ventures. She credits her mother, a first-generation computer science graduate, for her early love of technology and her family for her a tenacious spirit. “We’re a family of entrepreneurs, always willing to try things and we just feel like it’s okay to not make it. I’ve had my share of companies where it just didn’t work. But learning to change direction and persevere, that kind of experience is very important.”
Today, she gets to be that trusted voice for others. She and a few experienced and active investors formed the Venture Investors Alliance of Hong Kong in 2015 to help startups and budding entrepreneurs with advice on connecting to China and the world, partnerships and product development.
The next generation of talent and in particular the youth are of great importance to Leung. She and a group of mothers started STEM Initiative of Hong Kong to better equip the next generation with STEM education and resources to thrive and pursue their own passions in this field. They have invited Stanford education professors to speak to educators in Hong Kong and sent local educators to Stanford to learn how to teach STEM. A year later, government began providing funding of HKD100,000 for each public primary school, and HKD200,000 per secondary school, to support STEM education in Hong Kong.
"Our up and coming AI companies need to compete with the rest of the world for funding—if they are not the best then forget it."
“This is how we can all improve as Chinese kids today are competing with US kids. Our up and coming AI companies need to compete with the rest of the world for funding—if they are not the best then forget it,” said Leung.
A clear way for Hong Kong to compete is to maximize the Greater Bay Area opportunity by being bold in taking a lead role in the region. She lauds Hong Kong’s position as an international healthtech R&D stronghold due to its best-in-class partnerships, world-leading universities, great talent, and collaborative entrepreneur ecosystem – with the Hong Kong Science Park and the recent establishment of the Health lab of InnoHK as prime examples.
But Leung fears much of this talent, potential and opportunity in Hong Kong could be wasted by a prevailing closed mindset for many of today’s youth. “My advice to young people is to go travel the world—to be a successful entrepreneur you need to have a global vision,” she said.