The Top 25: #15 Saman Farid, Baidu Ventures

Saman Farid is head of Baidu Ventures USA, the US-based corporate venturing arm of China-based search engine provider Baidu. Previously a co-founder and managing partner at Comet Labs, Farid joined Baidu Ventures after the two units formed a partnership earlier last year.

Before co-founding Comet Labs, Farid was a vice-president at Legend Holdings and director of the Silicon Valley office of Legend Star, Legend Holdings’ corporate venturing unit. Earlier in his career he founded an e-commerce startup, was CEO of logistics automation platform Falama, and project engineering manager for Global Partners United, working in clean energy.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Farid said: “The most useful things we can give to startups are things they cannot buy with money – like mentoring, expertise and the ability to fast-track into production. These are things that, even with $100m, you might not be able to get overnight.”

Liu Wei was also a co-founder of Comet Labs in 2015, before leaving earlier last year to join Baidu as both a vice-president at Baidu and CEO of Baidu Ventures. Comet Labs started as a venture unit with a focus on machine intelligence. Speaking to TechCrunch, Liu said: “Baidu founded Baidu Ventures to build an ecosystem around artificial intelligence (AI) technology and help AI startups with money, technology and connections to industrial players.”

Over the past year the unit has closed three funds, increasing the amount of capital under management to almost $480m. Liu was quoted by China Money Network as saying: “To launch and set up three funds within one year reflects both the trust of investors in Baidu Ventures, and the tireless work by our team members.”

Baidu Ventures focuses on artificial intelligence and big data technology developers, generally investing between seed and series B stage in China and the US.

Baidu Ventures’ portfolio companies include big data acceleration technology provider Falcon Computing, record management system developer Ripcord and augmented reality technology developer 8i Technologies. Last year, its deals included US-based nanopore sequencing technology developer Quantapore, which raised just more than $15.5m in a series C round featuring Baidu Ventures.

Light and optics have been a theme for the group as another deal last year was for Lightelligence, a US-based photonic circuit chipmaker spun out from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which raised $10m in a seed round led by Baidu Ventures.

Farid, a control systems engineer by training, has an MBA from both Tsinghua and MIT as part of its international MBA program.