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Quinn Li of Qualcomm Ventures On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

An Interview With David Liu

I’m excited about the work being done on immersive experiences and the focus on platforms that leverage 5G for immersive reality, tactile internet, and remote virtual learning. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to use holography, immersive gaming experiences and virtual reality in our online social presence.

5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?

In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Quinn Li, Senior Vice President & Global Head of Qualcomm Ventures.

Quinn oversees Qualcomm’s $1B global venture investment portfolio of 150+ companies across seven global regions.

Quinn and his team invest in key areas including 5G, AI, Automotive, Enterprise and IoT to help expand Qualcomm’s ecosystem of customers and partners. He currently serves as a board member or observer in Airspan, ClearMotion, Cohesity, Innovium, Pensando and RetailNext. Quinn has led over a dozen investments with successful exits in A123 Systems, Eero, InvenSense, Powercloud Systems and Zoom.

Quinn started his career as an engineer working on 3G wireless technology and standards development at Lucent Technologies. Prior to joining Qualcomm Ventures, he worked in product management and business development in IBM Systems and Technology Group. Earlier, he worked on wireless technology development at Broadcom.

Quinn received his MBA from Cornell University, and his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career as an engineer. Early on, engineering seemed like the right career path for me, given my interest in math and science. I grew up and went to school in China, where there was a big emphasis on STEM education. I’m mathematically inclined and highly logical so engineering appeared to be a natural fit. I studied communications system design in graduate school and quickly set my sights on working at Qualcomm. Ironically, I applied for several engineering positions at Qualcomm, but the timing was not right. It wasn’t until I got my MBA, as I was looking for a career change to business, that I was hired at Qualcomm to join the Ventures group where I started my career in venture capital.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Making the career transition from engineering — a highly technical field with very little room for subjectivity — to venture capital — an industry where at times you have to rely on your instinct and being perceptive — has been the most interesting thing to happen in my career. It wasn’t until I started working in venture capital that I realized I could combine my strengths and passions — a broad interest in technology and my analytical and interpersonal skills. I would encourage anyone looking for a career change to find a field where they can leverage their strengths.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Make your passion and your work one and the same and do it with people you want to be with.” — Ray Dalio

I really enjoy my work and meeting with entrepreneurs and founders with great visions and ideas. We also have a great team with diverse backgrounds and a very collaborative culture. We work hard, learn from each other and we have fun.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife’s uncle has given me the best advice of my career — but I didn’t take it at first. Right after graduating from business school, I received an offer from Qualcomm Ventures and another offer in product management. I called my wife’s uncle for advice. He said, “Quinn, you shouldn’t worry about the unknowns. Find something you are truly passionate about.” However, I did the exact opposite and went with the less risky product management job. It felt more comfortable and familiar to what I already knew from my engineering background.

A couple of years later, I had another opportunity to join Qualcomm Ventures. This time, I decided to take the leap. If you find something you’re truly passionate about, the rest will take care of itself. Taking the job at Qualcomm Ventures and pushing myself out of my comfort zone was one of the best and most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made, and I have him to thank for it.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Acting with integrity — It’s important to act in a way you are proud of and be totally transparent and honest with your perspective. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable in the short term but it’s also necessary for establishing trust and paving the way for success in the long run.
  • Seeing the big picture — Having a strong grasp of the big picture helps me evaluate investments, but it also helps me stay grounded and focused on achieving successful outcomes for our companies. It’s always important to have the end goal in mind.
  • Perseverance — Perseverance is an essential part of fostering trust and creating a business environment that is conducive to success. In my first investment at Qualcomm Ventures, the CEO of the company was cautious with investors and very protective of his company. After weeks of emails and phone calls and making little headway, I decided a face-to-face meeting was in order. I needed to convince him that we were just as dedicated to his business as he was. In that meeting he understood the value we could bring to his company, and I was able to gain his trust. We became an investor and helped guide the company to a successful IPO.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

Qualcomm Ventures currently has 15 “unicorns” — startups valued at more than $1 billion — in our portfolio. It’s incredible to step back and look at the different ways our portfolio companies are helping people. Each one has been incredibly exciting to work with and promising new companies are being born each day.

One of our portfolio companies, Zoom, has played an instrumental and groundbreaking role in our lives over the past year and a half. By enabling people to meet remotely, Zoom helped us stay connected throughout the pandemic, assisting with the continuation of work, education and even social events like family reunions.

Another portfolio company, Noom, uses psychology-backed techniques to help users change their behaviors and form a healthy relationship with food. And the results speak for themselves: 80% of people who stick with the Noom lose weight in the long run, which is very impressive when you consider that the app has 45 million active users.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?

5G is the underlying connectivity fabric for the next decade and beyond. It’s different from the other G’s in that it was developed to be adaptable across a broad variation of requirements like enhanced mobile broadband, connecting a massive number of things and enabling new mission critical services that require ultra-high speeds with low latency.

5G is projected to be 10 times as fast as 4G and will be able to connect us to far more devices — opening up seemingly limitless opportunities for innovation in the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, auto and compute to name a few. 5G will transform the way we live. And its overall impact on our lives will be far more noticeable than any previous network transition.

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

The value proposition of virtualized care has become evident amid COVID-19. 5G will transform healthcare across the care continuum, in particular through remote, home-based models by enabling the transmission of patient critical data to doctors in real-time allowing for quicker, more real-time decision making.

  • One of our investments, TytoCare, proves how technology can expand the clinical scope of factors physicians are able to address through telehealth. TytoCare provides an all-in-one modular handheld device and telehealth platform for on-demand, remote medical examinations. The exam kit covers the most common conditions and helps users get a diagnosis from a medical professional in minutes.
  • We’re also seeing continued innovation around the future of work. As we look ahead, we see 5G, XR, and pervasive cloud platforms shaping the future of how we work, enabling exciting new ways to engage with colleagues and customers.
  • Finally, I’m excited about the work being done on immersive experiences and the focus on platforms that leverage 5G for immersive reality, tactile internet, and remote virtual learning. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to use holography, immersive gaming experiences and virtual reality in our online social presence.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?

Over the last year we have come to understand the role and opportunity of connectivity that would normally have taken 5–10 years. As the smartphone revolution has presented significant opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors, 5G will extend and expand that opportunity to new industries over the next decade+. 5G will encourage more innovation and invention and create new industries, with more use cases on the horizon beyond smartphones.

We’ve only begun to see — and imagine — the experiences that are possible with 5G.

Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?

5G has the power to bring the internet to the unconnected, education to the unschooled, financial services to the unbanked and jobs to the unemployed. 5G will also help us create a more resilient world, extending the reach and quality of healthcare and education.

For example, it can help address the digital divide by bringing high-speed connectivity to schools, libraries, and homes that lack access to broadband internet connectivity, enabling richer and more immersive educational experiences that can happen anywhere…and anytime.

Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the venture capital industry?

  1. Ability to read and assess people — I’ve seen that often times it is not the technology but the people that make businesses successful. When we invest in companies, we are investing in the team, so being able to assess them is essential to a career in venture capital. The most successful companies we’ve invested in have strong teams and a strong product vision.
  2. Passion for technology — To work in venture capital, you must have a passion for technology and the good that it can do in the world. What’s most rewarding in this industry is helping companies bring about change and improve lives.
  3. Curiosity about a broad range of topics — Every day, I have at least 5–6 meetings on a wide array of topics spanning artificial intelligence, automotive, and IoT. To stay engaged through all of this, a broad interest in technology is essential.
  4. Ability to build trusted partnerships — With so much money available in the VC space, it is important that you can add value to companies. To do this, you must be able to communicate your value as a partner and form strong relationships with founders/CEOs. This means truly understanding the company and being on the same page about its mission and goals, but it also means being able to help them grow their business.
  5. A strong network — It’s important to have a strong network of entrepreneurs, investors and partners in the ecosystem in order to have the best access to opportunities and to help companies scale their businesses.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)’

I’m passionate about equitable access and inclusion when it comes to technology. Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen how disparate access to high-speed internet can result in remote learning gaps that hold back low-income students and kids who live in rural areas. It’s critical that access to high-speed internet is ubiquitous and that we invest in the infrastructure to make the benefits of 5G accessible to all.

The impact of 5G can be huge: It can empower a single parent to take online classes, earn a degree and give their family a better life. It can allow for remote medical monitoring, meaning far fewer trips to the doctor for millions of people around the world. And those are just a few of the applications we’re aware of and new applications and use cases are being created every day. One of the most exciting things about 5G technology is that it will transform lives in ways that we can’t even imagine or predict yet.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to stay in the loop on what we’re working on at Qualcomm Ventures is to check out our website for our latest investments and news.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication