By Rebecca Buckman
The investors behind China’s Qiming Venture Partners previously were executives at information-technology heavy hitters like Microsoft, Intel and IBM.
So where are they looking for profits now? Not in IT much anymore. Instead, try drug companies, car-rental outfits and even an online-dating site.
Heavy-duty IT deals, particularly investments in semiconductor companies, aren’t a focus for Qiming, says Duane Kuang, a founder and managing director of the firm. Kuang previously ran Intel’s venture-capital arm in China. Wireless deals are also less attractive, he says. That’s because the increasing power of China’s incumbent, dominant cellphone carrier, China Mobile, has hurt some start-ups; China’s foot-dragging in implementing a fast type of cellphone service called 3G has also been a factor, he says.
Qiming’s portfolio reflects broader China investing trends. Earlier this week, research firm VentureSource said venture capitalists put money into only five Chinese IT deals in this year’s first quarter. The category includes investments in semiconductors, software, networking equipment and consumer electronics, among other technologies.
But Qiming still sees plenty of opportunity, particularly in areas like media and healthcare: Today, the firm announced it had raised a second, $320 million investment fund. It raised its first fund, totaling $200 million, just two years ago. Qiming also announced the addition of new staff, including Hans Tung, a new partner previously with Bessemer Venture Partners.
Despite a flurry of investment in Chinese semiconductor companies a few years ago, “not too many of them worked out well,” according to Kuang. Many of the companies hoped to make lower-cost chips that would be appealing to Chinese hardware manufacturers. But many discovered that they couldn’t reduce costs enough to attract new customers. It turns out most of the costs associated with chips stem from materials and fabrication, not labor, Kuang says. And low-cost labor was the main cost advantage these companies touted.
Qiming two years ago put money in a chip company called Fangtek that makes chips for wireless phones. Though Fangtek had ambitions to make more sophisticated chips for cellphones, it now focuses on simpler chips that manage phones’ power consumption. “Luckily, we managed to switch the business direction early,” Kuang says.