26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Quinn Li, Qualcomm Ventures

In November last year, US-listed chip maker Qualcomm promoted Quinn Li to senior vice-president and global head of its corporate venturing unit Qualcomm Ventures, which he has overseen since 2016.

Li has cemented his reputation as a leader in the venture community with a string of deals and initiatives and stepped up to co-chairman of the Global Corporate Venturing and Innovation Summit in Monterey in January in both 2018 and 2019.

One exit that happened in March 2016, two months after Li started managing the unit, was an early $2m investment made by Qualcomm three months prior – US-based driverless vehicle technology developer Cruise, which was a high-profile win when General Motors bought it for $1bn.

Two other Brazil-based companies, ride-hailing service 99 and agricultural technology developer Strider, were acquired from Qualcomm Ventures’ Latin America (LatAm) portfolio headed by Carlos Kokron in January and March last year, respectively.

Apart from 99, outdoor home security system developer Ring and bike rental service Mobike were among Qualcomm’s unicorns in 2018. Other successful exits were electric vehicle charging company Chargemaster, student-focused food ordering platform Tapingo, mobile internet technology developer Cootek and gene sequencing technology producer Edico Genome.

In April this year, Qualcomm exited video conferencing technology provider Zoom, which floated on the Nasdaq Global Select Market in a $751m initial public offering. This unicorn was born two months after a couple of other successful exits household wifi system developer Eero and language-as-a-service platform operator Reverie.

In an in-house interview last year, Kokron (known as CK), who was transferred from head of LatAm to head of North America following the exits, said: “Savvy entrepreneurs in both the US and LatAm are striving to build big businesses which would translate to significant value creation, and with a lot of sweat and some luck this yields to great exits for all involved. If you look at the Qualcomm Ventures experience, we have a strong track record of seven $1bn-plus exits in the last eight years.”

99’s sale to China-based Didi Chuxing was Brazil’s largest for a VC-backed company, and Qualcomm also had another big exit in May last year with the flotation of China-based smartphone maker Xiaomi at a valuation of $100bn – it was the largest venture-backed initial public offering since 2014.

Li said in 2017 for his GCV Powerlist profile regarding Qualcomm Ventures’ overall strategy: “We invest in companies that are building highly disruptive technologies.”

At 2016’s Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit in California, Li told interviewer Jordan Herman, partner at law firm Baker Botts, these disruptive technologies were often in the internet of things (IoT) and automotive, as well as virtual reality, but not in startups that compete with the parent’s business of computing chips.

In this year’s summit, Li reiterated that Qualcomm Ventures had invested in the parent company’s broader ecosystem, citing mobility, automotive and the internet of things as particular areas of interest. He also declared that in Qualcomm’s view, “mobile is going to be the most pervasive artificial intelligence platform” and that he was “very excited about this trend”.

Qualcomm Ventures was primarily interested in identifying future technology trends for its parent, investing in potential and current customers as well as in business partners with a view to driving the ecosystem forward. Li conceded that quantitative measuring was hard because it was almost impossible to figure out whether a portfolio company became a client of the parent corporation because an investment was made or whether they would have become a customer anyway.

It was important, therefore, that a corporate venture capital unit followed three rules – senior management had to be on board, there had to be a very clear plan and the team had to be disciplined about it, and there had to be a long horizon because returns would not be generated for five to six years.

Selected as a GCV Rising Star in January 2016 when he was head of North America and before his promotion to overall head of Qualcomm Ventures was announced, Li said the ability to make investments with a strong financial return while helping drive forward Qualcomm’s strategic objectives was one of the reasons he was drawn to corporate venturing. He also takes pleasure in helping portfolio firms grow through leveraging Qualcomm’s resources.

Li joined Qualcomm Ventures in 2005 after roles at IBM, Broadcom and Lucent following completion of his electrical engineering PhD at Washington University in St Louis, said some of the biggest challenges he has had to overcome along the way have involved finding the balance between strategic and financial objectives, while building the right team with sufficiently diverse experience to expand investments into new areas.