The top 25: Quinn Li, Qualcomm Ventures

After the departure of Qualcomm Ventures’ head, Nagraj Kashyap, to Microsoft, swiftly followed by Israel-based star investor Mony Hassid, it has been a challenging time for US-listed chip maker Qualcomm.

But, while Quinn Li’s promotion to the top corporate venturing role last year came at an interesting time for the company, he has cemented his reputation as a leader in the venture community with a string of deals and initiatives and stepped up to co-chair the Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit in Monterey next January.

One exit, Qualcomm’s early investment in automous driving startup Cruise, was a high-profile win when General Motors bought it for $1bn, while data software producer MapR has reportedly hired Goldman Sachs for an IPO expected to raise between $150m and $200m.

So far this year, Qualcomm Ventures’ public deals have included secondary storage technology provider Cohesity’s $90m series C round, data centre equipment developer Innovium’s $38m C round, finance transfer app Viva Republica’s C round extension, database technology developer ScyllaDB’s $16m B round, patient medication tracker Medisafe’s $14.5m B round, drone airspace management software developer AirMap’s $26m B round, virtual reality imaging technology provider Lytro’s $60m round, the emergence from stealth of ClearMotion with $100m, video conferencing software producer Zoom’s $100m D round and smart doorbell producer Ring’s $109m round.

Earlier deals from Qualcomm included software-defined storage technology developer Li effectively summed up its overall strategy, saying: “We invest in companies that are building highly disruptive technologies.”

At this year’s Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit in California, Li told interviewer Jordan Herman, partner at law firm Baker Botts, these disruptive technologies were often in the internet of things (IoT) and automotive, as well as virtual reality, but not in startups that compete with the parent’s business of computing chips.

Li works with Brian Modoff, executive vice-president overseeing strategy, M&A and ventures, who joined Qualcomm in October 2015 and led last year’s announced acquisition of peer NXP to drive into IoT.

In February, Qualcomm launched a virtual reality headset accelerator and offered its Snapdragon 835 headset as a reference design to foster new products developed in just a few months.

Qualcomm also joined cybersecurity foundry Team8 along with Microsoft.

Perhaps one of the most interesting deals has been Qualcomm’s reported decision to commit $1bn to SoftBank’s planned $100bn Vision Fund. The two know each, with SoftBank having acquired chip designer ARM last year.

And Qualcomm-backed OneWeb is set to merge with its corporate venturing investor Intelsat in a $13bn deal, with SoftBank paying $1.7bn for a 39.9% stake in the combined entity.

Selected as a GCV Rising Star in January last year before his promotion was announced, Li said the ability to make investments with a strong financial return while helping drive forward Qualcomm’s strategic objectives was one of the reasons he was drawn to corporate venturing. He also takes pleasure in helping portfolio firms grow through leveraging Qualcomm’s resources.

Li said some of the biggest challenges he has had to overcome along the way have involved finding the balance between strategic and financial objectives, while building the right team with sufficiently diverse experience to expand investments into new areas.