Q&A with Tiffine Wang, investment partner, MS&AD Ventures

Jon Soberg, a managing partner for MS&AD Ventures, a corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of Japan-headquartered insurance group MS&AD Holdings, said of Tiffine Wang, a partner at the unit: “Tiffine has been a partner at MS&AD Ventures for just over a year now, and she has made immense contributions in multiple areas already.

“Her tireless work ethic and her ability to work with people at all levels have earned her the respect of teammates and executives alike. Tiffine bridges gaps between incumbent approaches and startups, and her patience and ability to teach has proven very valuable to our business development efforts.

“On the investment side, Tiffine builds strong relationships and uses her network and her research skills to find and connect with great startups. People love working with Tiffine; her energy is infectious, and she is always working to improve.

“Tiffine is a highly valuable member of our team and she has already become a leader by taking so much initiative and driving success at MS&AD Ventures.”

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

I am currently a partner, investments at MS&AD Ventures, a $120m early-stage global fund backed by MS&AD Holdings. I have been here for just over a year. Previously, I worked on investments and innovation and partnerships with Singtel Innov8 Ventures for approximately five years. Innov8 is a $250m stage and vertical-agnostic fund backed by [telecommunications firm] Singtel Group.

Both funds are backed by large global multinational companies.

2. What attracted you to CVC?

You get the best of the worlds, VC plus corporate. I get to spend time working with brilliant founders, testing new technologies and I also get to work closely with CEOs and executives of our various business units which are often responsible for individual deals and partnerships that are larger than our whole fund. I love the international and global presence of the firms I have worked for. Learning about the different cultures and how to navigate cross-border businesses has been a big challenge but also a great highlight in my career so far.

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

Our team works very closely as “one team” and there are multiple projects happening at the same time but one of my earlier investments, Carro, Southeast Asia’s largest automotive marketplace and car financing services, is doing well both financially and strategically. I was happy to hear that they have successfully partnered with our entity in Southeast Asia, MSIG, and the partnership continues to grow.

Another deal, I(X) Investments is an impact investment platform which focuses on several categories that align with our parent companies’ core values including sustainability and financial inclusion. Our team has been leveraging them to better understand the ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) and impact space.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

Learning how to navigate both the business and corporate cultures of different countries and regions (for example, Japanese, Singapore, the Americas, Israel, UK, telco, insurance and banking).

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

I have always felt strongly about creating the world we want to live in. My core mission in life is to make a positive impact on the world and part of that is investing in companies that align with my core values including financial inclusion, empowerment, leveraging technology to enhance human experience and abilities, sustainability and security.

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

CVCs are quite different from one another so I do not like bucketing all CVCs together but hiring the right people and giving them the power and freedom to execute is key to success. I have seen many CVC units get ripped apart due to an executive or strategy change in headquarters so setting clear long-term expectations is important.

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?

We have two functions on my team. One is to make investments and the other focuses on business development. The investment team focuses on disruptive technologies [for the next] three to seven years and the business development team looks for technologies ready to deploy into our business units (BUs) in the next three to six months, incrementally.

During the pandemic, the investment team has been heads down managing our portfolio. We have also been actively investing in new deals at this time. The business development team has been working closely with our BUs on various pain points which include supporting the transition into a work from home environment to digitally transforming core functions of the business.

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

I love mentoring and training the next generation of entrepreneurs which empowers them to create and make their own world better. I love traveling, learning about new cultures and target, trap and skeet shooting.

Prior to joining venture, I helped build a programme called European Innovation Academy which trains entrepreneurs around the world. I am also an industry fellow at University of California (UC), Berkeley and serve on the advisory board for UC Santa Cruz’s Centre for Analytical Finance. I have spent several years in human services and economic and workforce development which laid a solid foundation for service to humanity which carries into the work I do today.