Bo Zhu, head, Lam Capital Asia

Faran Nouri, managing director of Lam Research Capital, a corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of US-headquartered semiconductor technology group Lam Research, said: “Bo has been a startup CEO and a successful investor. He is bilingual and bicultural and has been effective at closing some very difficult investments for us. In these times of geopolitical strife, we are fortunate to have Bo and continue our investments in Asia.”

1. First, just give us a quick overview of how you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it.

I am a partner at Lam Capital. Under managing partner Faran Nouri, I have been focusing on the semiconductor ecosystem and leading the firm’s activities in Asia from my base in Beijing since June 2018. Putting my Asia head hat on, I [help connect] the portfolio companies with the local ecosystem, and drive strategic initiatives in the region. I started my CVC career at Applied Ventures through Applied Materials’ post-MBA leadership rotation programme in 2008.

2. What attracted you to CVC?

An engineer by training and an entrepreneur at heart, I am fond of innovations and impacts. As such, working in a CVC in the semiconductor industry, the essential technology enabler, is a life-fulfilling job. The role allows me to make far-reaching impacts in every aspect of people life by combining vast resources of industry leaders and disruptive power of startups.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?

My greatest achievement with Lam Capital is the memory initiative I have been driving since 2019. Having observed multiple inflection points on memory technology and computing architecture driven by emerging applications such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing, we started the investment theme with a systematic approach. Not only we mapped technology and startups but also reached out to other CVCs and key players in the value chain. The endeavour resulted in investments into a spectrum of memory innovations, including [undisclosed companies] in-memory compute, high-performance flash and resistive memory.

Making an investment is only the beginning of the value-generating process. Much more energy has been spent on bridging startups with Lam teams and external stakeholders, coaching founders in the strategic decision and global expansion, securing revenue-generating opportunities for Lam, and conducting regular internal reviews. The structured approach has been applied to multiple projects including country-specific investment initiative in Asia.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

My top challenge is to stay focused on achieving the long-term goals of Lam Capital while keeping well aligned with the shifting business priorities of the parent company. Among many others, communication difficulties resulting from a 15-hour time difference with my home team in California have been further complicated by covid-19 and tariff tension across the pacific ocean. Despite all these challenges, what makes me feel excited and driven every day is the fact that the CVC work I love is part of efforts to accelerate the digital transformation of the global economy in order to address many of the very challenges I am facing every day.

5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?

My aspiration is to become a trusted venture capitalist and company builder who empowers innovations to bring positive changes to my stakeholders, the industry and society.

6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

Over the last two years, the Lam Capital team has increasingly engaged in company-wide engineering and business initiatives, making real impacts on core business and gaining stronger support from the C-suite. Inspired by this positive experience, I would recommend all CVCs to go beyond the traditional role of inbound sourcing and step up to drive path-finding and transformation of the parent company, especially in tumultuous times. Externally, CVCs could share with each other both success and failure in the respective industry. Normally we learn more from failures.

7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?

The covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the semiconductor industry. Since the onset of the pandemic, Lam Research has been striving to adopt digital technology, such as online collaboration tools, to protect employees, ensure business continuity and strengthen product development. The surging global demand for digital infrastructure also helped Lam deliver record revenues and earnings in the September quarter.

To build a stronger company out of the public health crisis, both Lam Research and Lam Capital have become more focused on core business. With continued support from top management, the Lam Capital team is keener than ever to embrace enabling technology such as artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing. One exciting addition to our portfolio during the pandemic was digital manufacturing company Velo3D.

Venture investing is a people business. Without being able to make in-person due diligence and ongoing engagement during pandemic has definitely compromised efficiency. It becomes even more challenging when conducting cross-border deals in Asia where China and Korea have basically banned international travels.

8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

Prior to joining Lam Research, he was co-founder and president of Maven Optronics China, advancing chip-scale packaging LEDs for display and healthcare industries.

Prior to Maven, Zhu held multiple positions at Applied Materials, including director of solar product sales for north Asia, an associate at its corporate venturing arm Applied Ventures and manager in new business development.

His early experience includes commercialisation of machine learning from academia into industry, deeptech startup in the US and Greater China and product development in the semiconductor industry. He also served as co-director of the Venture Capital Group at HYSTA where he strove to foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem for cross-border startups.

Zhu earned a PhD in mechanical engineering from University of California at Berkeley, an MBA from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and a bachelor of science in manufacturing from Tsinghua University.