Last year, I went to a dinner where Madeleine Albright was the guest of honor, and she said some things that really resonated with me: The U.S. and China are more codependent on each other than any two countries have ever been in history. There’s no escaping the fact that we need each other. More importantly, we need to find the right way to work together.
That’s why the launch of 1955 Capital is so important to me. It’s a new venture firm I founded focused on funding technologies in developed countries that can be rapidly commercialized and scaled to solve pressing challenges in the developing world — starting with China.
We’re talking about taking on big, bold challenges like air pollution, renewable energy, food security and safety, health care delivery, accessible education, and sustainable manufacturing. I’ve watched as fewer and fewer firms pursue these sectors in recent years due to risk and fear of failure.
There’s also a serious lack of investors who understand the Chinese market and who know how to do business there. I heard recently that only 10% of U.S. venture capital general partners are Asian. Fewer speak Chinese. And even fewer want to explore outside the Silicon Valley comfort zone to build partnerships there. No wonder most U.S. investors advise entrepreneurs with global ambitions to start with the U.S. market first, even if they could grow faster, earlier outside of the U.S. Many investors actively advise against growing in China because of the fear of the unknown and the language and cultural barriers.
The good news is there’s appetite to do something different. Something revolutionary. 1955 Capital has raised $200 million in a first close on anchor commitments — we believe that is a strong signal that others recognize the gap in the market and want to see it bridged.
Our investors also believe we’re the right team to do it. As a Chinese American who grew up immersed in both cultures, I’m passionate about bringing our countries together to solve important problems. I’ve had the rare opportunity to invest in incredibly impactful sectors like energy, food, agriculture, healthcare, and education for over a decade.
At Lightspeed Ventures, I spent 5 years helping to build the firm’s cleantech, genomics, and education practice areas. This led to working with exciting companies like Solazyme and Natera — both of which went public. Their success compelled me to keep investing in these areas when I joined Khosla Ventures, a platform that encourages its investment partners to be contrarian thought leaders in sectors that matter to the world.
Since then, I’ve helped open the door for a number of companies to the massive markets in Asia. I’m especially grateful to Vinod Khosla, my former partner, for his commitment to world-changing technologies and his support as we’ve built bridges for our entrepreneurs to enter frontier markets.
I’m proud to serve on the board of LanzaTech, a Chicago-based maker of carbon reuse technology that turns toxic waste gases from steel mills and other industrial factories into valuable fuels and chemicals. This is a huge issue in China, where air quality is bad and likely to get worse. Despite its unique technology and value proposition, LanzaTech had a challenging time finding partners in the U.S. But when the company met with Chinese groups, including the No. 1 steel maker in the country, Lanzatech found believers who were willing to back its first pilot plants. The company was able to test and iterate in China to develop an even better solution, leading to a successful capital raise of over $100 million and other successful partnerships in both the developed and the developing world.
Lanzatech is one of many stories showing how survival-driven demand in China is pushing critical innovation forward fast. The Chinese market doesn’t just want these types of companies to exist — it needs them to. Home to the fastest growing middle class in the world, China is grappling with a tough combination of environmental issues and the need for better products and higher quality of life. Capital, regulations, and willpower aren’t the problem, access to the right technologies is.
This is where 1955 Capital comes in. Our goal is to help founders who are solving these problems understand the global opportunity and find the right partners in these developing countries, so that they can go the distance. In doing so, we seek not only to close an economic divide, but also a political one. It might sound grand, or even hyperbolic, but I sincerely believe technology is the greatest and most inspiring olive branch that can connect us with critical partners like China, India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and beyond.
We have a historic opportunity to invent a new global future — who wants to join us?
Looking forward to sharing more,