Kai-Fu Lee has a fairly unique perspective on the tech industry, having spent years in high roles at Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Lee spent six years as VP of Apple’s Interactive Media Group, before moving on to be chosen as the guy to forge first Microsoft’s and then Google’s inroads into China. Then, in mid-2009, Lee left Google (where the former professor and computer scientist had been involved with Google.cn and beyond for over four years) amidst the growing criticism in Western media of China’s Internet policy, specifically in regards to the Golden Shield, or the Great Firewall of China, as it is fondly known.
Lee bowed out of Google seemingly at just the right time to turn his focus from the behemoths to the little guys, founding Innovation Works, an early-stage incubator for Chinese startups. Since 2009 the incubator has been solely focused on investing in and coaching young entrepreneurs in the Chinese market, and today the incubator announced that it has raised $180 million to create the so-called “Innovation Works Development Fund” (IWDF). The fund is the first dollar-based fund raised by the company to be focused on Chinese Internet startups.
According to Innovation Works’ announcement, corporations, family funds, and institutions participated in the fund, including investors like WI Harper, Silicon Valley Bank, Sequoia Capital, IDG-Accel, Foundation Capital, Foxconn, SAP, Bertelsmann, Motorola, Autodesk, and pension funds from the U.S. and Canada.
Ron Conway and Yuri Milner were also part of the list of investors, as well as executives and former executives from top Internet companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo. While American tech companies have largely struggled to expand into the Chinese market, it’s nice to at least see American money working its way into China to support startups and the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Hopefully, it will encourage Chinese founders to build businesses unique to the region and not Facebook/Twitter ports.
The incubator had previously raised $115 million and, to date, Innovation Works has invested in approximately 34 startups, nine of which have successfully obtained sizable Series A financing from third-party VCs, according to Lee. Innovation Works, like its American brethren TechStars and Y Combinator looks to help early-stage startup teams grow quickly with the help of mentoring services and an infusion of cash. Lee manages the fund alongside WI Harper Group.
For more, check out Innovation Works at home here.
Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is the Founder of Innovation Works. He served as Vice President, Engineering of Google Inc., and President of its Chinese Operations since July 2005. He is widely known for his pioneering work in the areas of speech recognition and artificial intelligence. Dr. Lee joined Google from Microsoft, where he most recently held the position of Corporate Vice President, after founding Microsoft Research China in 1998. Prior to joining Microsoft, Dr. Lee was a Vice President and...