The top 25: Quinn Li, global head, Qualcomm Ventures

Quinn Li has been overseeing Qualcomm Ventures, US-listed chipmaker Qualcomm’s corporate venture capital (CVC) arm, since 2016. In November 2018, he was additionally promoted from vice-president (VP) to senior VP for the corporate.

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

In the past year, the unit has invested in companies including supply chain management software developer FourKites, sales preparation software provider MindTickle and mobile phone manufacturer HMD Global.

Qualcomm Ventures’ portfolio companies such as space-focused data provider Spire Global, 3D modelling technology provider Matterport and advanced battery developer Enovix Corporation meanwhile have agreed to reverse merger deals to go public, which would enable the corporate to exit.

The unit made two China-based investments in 2020, backing healthy food supplier and lifestyle service Boohee and electronic display technology provider Yunyinggu, having also added US-based artificial intelligence robotics technology developer Brain Corp and medical assessment technology developer Tyto Care to its portfolio.

In addition, Qualcomm exited radio frequency (RF) technology provider Cavendish Kinetics in an acquisition of undisclosed size by RF equipment producer Qorvo in October 2019, which came cloud services provider Cloudflare went public the month before in a $525m initial public offering (IPO).

Furthermore, software development tool provider Bitbar Technologies was bought by software engineering products supplier SmartBear Software for an undisclosed sum in August 2019, which came four months after video streaming platform Vimeo agreed to acquire video-editing app developer Magisto for about $200m.

Video conferencing technology provider Zoom also filed for a $100m IPO on the Nasdaq Global Select Market in March 2019 and semiconductor and data technology provider Intel purchased India-based microprocessor manufacturer Ineda Systems for an undisclosed sum a month earlier.

The unit made a notable exit as early as March 2016, which came in the wake of Li’s appointment to manage the unit: an early $2m investment made by Qualcomm three months prior for driverless vehicle technology developer Cruise was bought by automotive manufacturing group General Motors bought it for $1bn.

Qualcomm Ventures is interested in identifying future technology trends for its parent, investing in potential and current customers as well as in business partners to drive the ecosystem forward, said Li. He 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.

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.

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.