Q&A with Xin Ma, managing director of Asia platform, TCNV

Girish Nadkarni, president of Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures (TCNV), France-headquartered oil and gas supplier Total’s investment vehicle, said of Xin Ma, managing director of the unit’s Asia platform: “Xin has been part of TCNV since 2017 and is currently the head of our Asian investment group. She is responsible for investing in companies and funds in China, India, Japan and Southeast Asia.

“In a short period of time, she has built a strong reputation in these markets and led $50m anchor investment in the Cathay Smart Energy Fund and direct investments in Grab (Singapore), G7 (China) and Canopy (Singapore). She is a frequent speaker at venture and industry conferences in and relating to Asia.”

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 work for Total Corporate Neutrality Ventures, the corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of Total Group. I have been with TCNV for almost four fascinating years starting from January 2017.

2. What attracted you to CVC? 

The global energy industry is undergoing an unprecedented transition of electrification, decentralisation, digitalisation, and decarbonisation. Total, together with its fellow companies such as Shell and BP are playing an important and positive role during this transition for a better and more sustainable energy future.

TCNV, as the corporate venturing arm of Total, is pioneering the search for the most innovative business solutions and technologies, covering a wide range of exciting subjects from energy storage, energy efficiency, hydrogen and biofuel and gas, smart energy, advanced mobility services and energy solutions, as well as the circular economy (recycling, CO2 and methane). It is an exciting ongoing adventure to work with the best talents in the industry to be part of a fundamental change for a better energy future.

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

What I am most proud of is to have created and grown the Asia activities of TCNV. When I joined TCNV, all our investments are focus on North America and Europe. Meanwhile, we have realised the importance of Asia as an important player for the energy industry with 28% of the world GDP, and around half of the world’s population and CO2 emission. Although with a much shorter history then the US and EU, Asia’s VC industry is grown handsomely, hosting 30% of world’s unicorns. After three years of hard work, our Asia platform now hosts three investments funds and three portfolio companies, covering a wide range of energy, mobility subjects and sustainability subjects. We are also extremely privileged to have built a valuable partnership network in the region and have largely localised ourselves.

4. What have been your biggest challenges? 

My biggest challenge is to find the right and best talents who has well-balanced expertise of (1) energy transition and the Total Group, (2) the VC profession and (3) a real local knowledge of Asia.

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

My ambition is to further grow the Asia pacific activities, become a reference CVC in the energy and cleantech VC industry in Asia that would attract the top startups in our field to work with us. By building a highly professional team and a solid portfolio in APAC, and by interacting with our business within the group, to really make a difference for the energy transition in Asia. We would like to be an indispensable and proud part of Total’s global ambition to provide a better and sustainable energy future globally.

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

I think we are in a golden age of CVC development, there is an increasing number of new CVCs being created, with significant capital and talent allocated and challenging mandates assigned. All CVCs are different and a majority of them have double financial and strategic targets. CVC could do better in finding the right balance between the two: with a solid and rigorous financial discipline when proposing investments, and meanwhile masterly managing the inherent strategic mission. It is also important to have a portfolio of innovative solutions in order to play a critical role in innovating the corporates for short, middle and long term.

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?

For Total group, the pandemic is a big challenge for our traditional business, especially when oil prices are pushed to a lower level, caused by the global lockdown and the consequential weak economic growth. However, the covid-19 pandemic has also pushed society to be more ecological and climate-friendly and digital-ready. These are great opportunities calling for renewable and low-carbon energy and digital energy solution, as well as greener refinery and chemical goods such as biofuel, biogas and biopolymer.

For our CVC, the pain points are the challenges to meet our startups, have face to face discussions, visit their sites, and test their solutions. But the digital conferences, pitch and due diligence sessions are becoming more and more efficient and flexible and are saving a lot of international long-haul travels.

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

I was in the M&A activities for one of our business branches. The transactional knowledge accumulated is handy for a career in VC, but there are real differences between VC and M&A, and it could be fun to see things from both perspectives!

In my spare time, I like to read social, historical, anthropological and cultural books, practise Chinese calligraphy, write and paint. I like activities with a human element. After all, behind all the fascinating technological and economic trends, it is humans who drive changes to happen!