Founded in 2005 by a renowned coalition of innovators, including Dr. Finian Tan, Dr. Khalil Binebine, Dr. Jeffrey Chi, Dr. Damian Tan, Linda Li, and Raymond Kong, Vickers Venture Partners has firmly established its presence and influence in the global venture capital space.
Renowned for its successful investments in companies like Baidu.com, Inc., Focus Media Holding Ltd, and TWG Tea, Vickers Venture operates with a global perspective, with offices in Singapore, New York, Silicon Valley, London, and Shanghai.
Dr. Damian Tan, the Managing Director guiding the venture with smart leadership and strategic acumen, leads the charge at Vickers Venture Partners. In an exclusive interview, Dr. Tan shares insights into the firm’s unique investment philosophy, success stories, and the evolving landscape of technology startups.
Dr. Tan is a prominent figure in the venture capital sphere with a career spanning over 30 years. This article delves into the leadership of Dr. Tan and Vickers Venture’s impactful contributions to the venture capital sector.
Dr. Tan’s transition from roles at Hewlett Packard, Digital, Oracle, and Apple into venture capital in 2005 has had a profound influence on the IT revolution on venture capital. He emphasizes the excitement of the 2000s, a period of global and Asian growth that presented compelling investment opportunities.
“It’s quite natural to link IT to venture capital, and the 2000s were exciting times for global and Asian growth and hence opportunities for investing and getting great returns.”
His academic journey, crowned with a Doctor of Business Administration and a Master of Science with Distinction, allows him to assess both the technological and business aspects of potential investments.
“My tertiary education was mostly in engineering and information technology, which made me able to understand and develop an appreciation for the profound impact technology has on humanity.”
Vickers Venture Partners, founded in 2005, distinguishes itself with a unique investment philosophy that focuses on deep tech and eliminates market risk. Dr. Tan elaborates on the alignment of this philosophy with investment decisions, stating, “Our focus is on companies that can solve difficult global problems in areas such as plastic waste, human health, wellness, clean energy, and pandemics, as examples.”
He further emphasizes that Vickers Venture seeks companies that have identified breakthroughs to known problems, ensuring a known market. This approach removes the demand risk, a distinctive feature compared to typical venture investments.
“Our investment decision, therefore, is based on understanding the deep technology and the need it addresses. Will it work? Can the team deliver? If so, this is a blockbuster. We don’t have to worry if people want it or not; there is no demand risk.”
Highlighting Vickers Venture’s impactful role in its portfolio companies, Dr. Tan discusses how the firm helps startups leverage its global network. Active board participation and crucial decision-making involvement are key aspects of Vickers Venture’s contribution to the success of its portfolio companies.
He recounts, “We typically have board seats and participate in many crucial decisions the company needs to make and act on. We improve management abilities, success rate and reduce negative risks.”
Vickers Venture has evolved its investment focus and strategies. Dr. Tan explains how the company adapted to technological shifts, moving from a focus on consumer tech, especially within Asia, to deep tech globally. He notes the impact of biotechnology and nanotechnology on human health and healthspan, shaping the firm’s strategy.
“Since 2005 the applications of biotech and nanotech have shown hugely impactful to human health and healthspan. Hence, our change in strategy from consumer tech, especially within Asia, towards deep tech globally. We’ve also continually increased our Fund size and can invest in deep tech, which typically needs more capital. Deep down, we are lovers of technology and understand its profound implications.”
Vickers Venture’s global presence is strategic with offices in New York, Silicon Valley, London, and Shanghai. Dr. Tan says there is a necessity to be active in geographies where the portfolio companies operate.
While talking about the trends in the deep tech sector, Dr. Tan highlights the sustainable undertakings in the industry.
“Some trends are lifelong, for example, the need for more clean energy, the desire to stay healthy longer, the fight against potential pandemics, the cure for diseases that plague the aging population, the need for materials that are biodegradable. These impact humanity significantly, our quest to have good healthy lives and make the world better.”
As Vickers Venture continues to invest in deep tech, Dr. Tan envisions significant contributions to solving global problems. He anticipates that successful portfolio companies can inspire others, potentially reaching valuation thresholds beyond unicorns.
“Our impact can be significant if our portfolio companies can help in solving global problems. Such companies have potential to be decacorns and centacorns meaning 10 to 100 billion dollars or more instead of just the unicorn, 1 billion threshold. Such success can inspire other startups to aim for similar achievements.”
Offering advice to aspiring investors, Dr. Tan suggests co-investing with established venture capitalists initially. He acknowledges the challenges of starting a VC firm and emphasizes the importance of having the right credentials, skill sets, and focus.
“In deep tech, you need an ultra-inquisitive mind and interest in complicated science and technology. A lot of reading and research into significant problems plaguing humanity and how different approaches work in solving the dilemma. There are lots of problems, unfortunately, so there are lots of opportunities.”
For early-stage founders, Dr. Tan emphasizes the importance of having a vision beyond immediate growth. He acknowledges the inevitable challenges in a startup journey and the need for continuous alignment with the long-term vision.
“Current founders seem to have similar traits. They are world-class in the space, they are trying to disrupt, they have a track record of success, they are on the verge of their breakthrough solutions, they have a suite of patents, and they have a plan for commercialization. They have shown abilities to understand challenges and overcome them. They are so on the cutting edge that it’s difficult to replace them. It’s much easier to help in areas of problem-solving and project and management risks than product invention. So investing is usually based on our beliefs on the founders, especially in the earlier stages.”
Looking back, Dr. Tan advises his younger self to value founders consistently throughout their journey. He highlights the importance of staying attuned to potential challenges, offering solutions, and delivering on commitments.