Seasoned Shanghai-based VC William Bao Bean, general partner at SOSV and managing director of Chinaccelerator and MOX, sits down with Asian Pioneers to discuss his background, upbringing, and early career. In this snippet: what are the new trends in his industry, biotech and AI?
AP: SOSV invests in many verticals through its accelerators so there must be a lot of insights. Where do you see the next big trends? Are VCs transitioning to biotech or deep-tech?
WBB: Bio is deep-tech, hardware is deeptech, internet software is deep-tech. Deep-tech is leveraging cutting edge technology to drive a change. Technology can also be in a vat. Most of the cellular agriculture looks like brewing beer. You put culture and microbes in, you take something that’s like goo and turn it into something that changes the world. That’s what my partners are doing at IndieBio, our biotech platform. It’s extremely technical and I don’t understand most of it. One area where I’m very focused on is artificial intelligence.
Almost every one of our companies is leveraging AI. They leverage data and algorithms to solve problems, improve services, personalize marketing and increase efficiency. Startups can do things now that 3-4 years ago would have required an army of people and months of time.
How much does a candy bar phone cost right now? $5 USD. Android phones are like $50 USD. We’ve recently invested in a company that refurbishes Android phones. They’re selling them for $25 USD with a warranty and a certificate, bringing the cost down and the entry barrier down. We are also investing in blockchain to improve security, transparency and trust in areas like agriculture through our portfolio companies Scantrust and UNL. Coffee Exchange is helping the 20 million coffee farmers out there to make more money and enabling coffee drinkers to know who grew the beans.
I think the next biggest trend is the next 4 billion people who don’t have the internet. That’s our tagline for the last five years at MOX. The amazing thing about the next 4 billion is that they’re now the next 3 billion people. Since we started MOX, almost 1 billion new people have connected to the internet and are using it regularly. That’s going to be one of the biggest revolutions — bringing technology, services, information and education to people who didn’t have it before.
People think it’s strange when Google focuses on people who make about $1000-$1500 USD a month. When we first started, we focused on people who were making $250-$500 USD a month. Now, we focus on people who earn about $150 a month. Those are very different economic strategies. We’re helping people lease their own smartphones, change their lives through services like microloans even though their total monthly wage is only about $125-$150 USD. Is it going to get us superrich? Probably not. A lot of it is cliche but we are in a very lucky position to be improving lives day-to-day.
Are you looking for more innovation experts on the China Speakers Bureau? Do check out this list.