Women are still a minority among the most successful venture capital investors, but their presence is growing. Twelve female investors made it onto this year’s Midas List, a record for the annual ranking and an increase from nine women a year ago. The cohort includes three female newcomers, one of whom, Kathy Xu, is the highest-ranked woman on the list.
The Midas List ranks venture capital investors based on the number and dollar size of exits and highly-valued private companies over the past five years, with a premium on bolder early-stage deals. Produced in partnership with TrueBridge Capital Partners, the ranking counts only exits (public offerings or acquisitions) that are over $200 million or private investment rounds valuing companies at $400 million or more.
Newcomer Kathy Xu, founder and partner at Shanghai-based firm Capital Today, joins the list at the very lofty No. 6 spot, thanks largely to her prescient bet on JD.com, China’s No. 2 online retailer, plus investments in Chinese gaming company NetEase and discount e-commerce site Meituan-Dianping. Capital Today was just a year old when Xu bet on JD.com as its only Series A investor.
After the e-commerce site went public in 2015, she had a career-making win. Her $18 million check returned $2.9 billion to Capital Today and its investors. Xu began her career as a bank clerk in China, then worked at Hong Kong investment firm Peregrine and Baring Private Equity Asia before founding Capital Today in 2005.
Xu dethroned Mary Meeker, who was the highest-ranked female on the Midas List for the past three years. Meeker lands at No. 8 this year. After eight years at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Meeker left the firm in late 2018 to start a new fund with former members of Kleiner Perkins’ digital growth team. Her new fund, Bond Capital, launched in January 2019 and focuses on high-growth Internet companies.
Her Kleiner Perkins portfolio had five exits since our last Midas List: Turkish commerce site Trendyol (acquired by Alibaba in June 2018), DocuSign (IPO in April 2018), Spotify (direct listing in April 2018) and Ring (acquired by Amazon in March 2018).
Meeker is known in the tech world for her annual Internet Trends Report and was a managing director at Morgan Stanley covering public technology companies before she shifted into venture capital in 2010.
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Beth Seidenberg, No. 59 on the list, also recently started her own venture investing firm. After 14 years at Kleiner Perkins, Seidenberg, a physician by training, founded Los Angeles-based Westlake Village BioPartners, which plans to focus on early-stage firms and to incubate life sciences companies.
The firm launched its first fund with $320 million of committed capital in September 2018. During her tenure at Kleiner Perkins, the ex-chief medical officer at Amgen incubated eight companies and made big deals including Flexus Biosciences, which was acquired by pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2015 for $1.25 billion. Another notable exit: cancer drug maker Tesaro, which was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline for $5.1 billion in 2018.
Two other newcomer female VCs debuted on our list. Nisa Leung, managing partner at Qiming Venture Partners, ranked at No. 54, leads the Chinese firm’s health care investments.
Notable deals include the acquisition of cell analysis instrument company ACEA Biosciences by Agilent for $250 million in November 2018, and the September 2017 initial public offering of drug developer Zai Lab. Before joining Qiming, Leung cofounded Biomedic Holdings, which invested in medical devices, pharmaceuticals and health care services.
Outside of her venture role, Leung is a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School and a member of the government of Hong Kong’s Committee on Innovation and Technology Development and Re-Industrialization.
Another newcomer: Anna Fang, partner and CEO of ZhenFund, an early-stage China-based firm that has backed more than 600 startups. Fang, who oversees the fund’s investments, portfolio management and operations, secured the No. 89 rank thanks in part to her investments in lifestyle and shopping site Xiaohongshu, also known as Red, which said it had more than 200 million users as of January 2019. Fang, who is based in Beijing, started her career as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan in New York covering consumer and retail companies.
In addition to Meeker and Seidenberg, six other women who were on last year’s Midas List are back again, including Jenny Lee, founder and partner at GGV Capital (No. 19); Ann Miura-Ko, cofounder and partner at Floodgate Fund (No. 57); Theresia Gouw, cofounder and partner at Aspect Ventures (No.65); Rebecca Lynn, partner at Canvas (No. 80); Aileen Lee, founder and partner at Cowboy Ventures (No. 82); Sonali DeRycker, partner at Accel Partners in London (No.83); and Kirsten Green, founder and managing partner at Forerunner Ventures (No. 95).
Two of these women jumped up quite a bit in the ranks since last year. Jenny Lee of GGV Capital rocketed up to No. 19 from No. 74 a year ago thanks to five initial public offerings in the past year: credit card service startup 51credit in July 2018, language platform LingoChamp in September 2018, scooter startup Niu in October 2018 and smartphone maker Xiaomi in July 2018, a personal investment.
Lee, who has been a Midas lister since 2012, also led GGV’s fundraising efforts last year, culminating in $1.88 billion of new funds in October 2018. Twenty of her investments are valued at more than $400 million and seven have reached unicorn or “megaunicorn” (multi-billion dollar) valuations.
Gouw, cofounder and managing partner of Aspect Ventures, moved up to No. 65 from No. 89 a year ago following two notable acquisitions of companies she’d backed: Slack picked up smart email assistant Astro in September 2018, and Airbnb said it would acquire Hotel Tonight in March 2019 for $465 million. Gouw tells Forbes this year that she continues to focus on investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning “despite all the hype.”
An Imbalanced Industry
It’s common knowledge that the venture capital industry and the startup and investment ecosystem skew heavily male. Globally, only about 17% of investment-level positions at venture firms are held by women, according to PitchBook data this year.
What’s more, the overall surge in venture capital funding in recent years hasn’t benefited female founders at the same rate as male founders, according to PitchBook. The total amount of capital going to female U.S. founders is increasing— barely.
Companies founded solely by women claimed 2.3% of total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the U.S. in the last year, according to PitchBook in February, up from 2.2% a year earlier. Not much, but an uptick of 0.1% is better than a move in the opposite direction.
-Kathleen Chaykowski; Forbes Staff
Controlling The Ledger: The World’s Largest Financial Firms Embrace Blockchain
Ask nearly any leading banker or financial executive to go on the record about blockchain, and you are liable to hear crickets. After all, it’s an industry built on trust and stability and crypto’s recent legacy of volatility and even fraud has tainted the topic.
It’s ironic because, behind the scenes, few industries are eagerly working on blockchain projects as feverishly as financial services firms are. Bank of America, for example, has filed nearly 60 blockchain patents. Yet it refused to speak to Forbes about its dive into distributed ledger tech. JPMorgan’s CEO Dimon famously threatened to fire any employee caught trading bitcoin. Today it is developing its own digital token.
The world’s largest, most centralized and most powerful institutions are now embracing the technology designed to unseat them because they realize that at its, core blockchain is just lines of code that simplify accounting and record keeping. For hundreds of years, bankers have exhibited mastery in ledger keeping and they have no intention of giving that up.
Our inaugural Blockchain 50 list is dominated by financial firms. From BNP Paribas and Citigroup to Nasdaq to Mastercard and Visa, the biggest names in global money are making strides in blockchain testing and adoption.
They’re using the technology to speed up settlement times and interbank payments, simplify processes that still rely on paper and fax machines, and improve security measures with the goal of both saving time and money now and creating new ways to make a profit in the future.
Fidelity, which now has 100 employees devoted to digital assets, has launched a digital asset custody service for institutional investors and is already building a trading platform for purchasing crypto. PNC bank is using Ripple’s blockchain software to process international payments.
Santander is already collecting revenue from One Pay FX, a blockchain-based foreign exchange service that is also built on Ripple technology. Dutch banking giant ING’s dedicated blockchain team that has launched 8 pilots since 2016, and alongside Credit Suisse completed the first legally enforceable securities swap on a blockchain last year.
Even banks that didn’t make our list, like the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America, are testing the waters. RBC has conducted 8 live pilots, and Bank of America has filed the most blockchain patents of any company in the industry.
Notably, these early first forays into the blockchain space have fostered something unexpected among these major competitors: collaboration, especially through industry efforts like Hyperledger and the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. “I remember how different people from different institutions tried to start talking about the common work in this moment,” says BBVA’s Carlos Kuchkovsky, CTO of new digital business, of the early days of those groups. “That’s how we want to collaborate now, to create common new rails.”
Citibank has partnered with Barclays to launch a blockchain app store. ING and BNP Paribas are just two of several big banks that partnered to create komgo, a blockchain trade commodity network, and UBS has partnered with BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, and Santander to create a way to exchange digital cash.
Of course, these banks know that there is a long road ahead when it comes to integrating blockchain into their daily processes. Blockchain is not a catch-all solution, and there are sure to be new hurdles ahead, but some banks say they are already reaping the rewards. “You already have tangible benefits but this still is not the end state,” says ING’s program director of distributed ledger technology Mariana Gomez de la Villa of a recent ING pilot. “The ecosystem is growing.”
-Sarah Hansen; Forbes Staff
Lab-grown Diamonds: Never Mined, It’s Man-Made
Turns out there is literally no difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds, well, apart from the price.
Ever wondered what the difference between lab-produced diamonds and natural diamonds was? Well, nothing. They are exactly the same.
As with most things of value, a great deal of information has been produced over the years about the price of diamonds. In short, many believe the real price of diamonds is far lower than what ‘big business’ would have us believe and that it is driven up by our insatiable hunger and the social importance we place on the stones.
In line with this, there is a widely-held belief that they are not rare and the market is being deliberately controlled to create the façade that they are difficult to produce. Therefore, their price is dictated by the fact that they symbolize the most enduring of all human emotions – love.
With that out of the way, in recent times, society has developed a pragmatic relationship with diamonds, rather than a romantic one that has long sustained the industry.
It might be that we live in the era of instant gratification or that we have stopped romanticising the idea of waiting millions of years for the precious stone, but more people have embraced the idea of purchasing lab-grown diamonds.
Unlike an imitation gem like cubic zirconia, it has the same physical characteristics and chemical components as a natural diamond but production time is much shorter, enabling producers to create it in a matter of weeks.
Lab-grown diamonds producer Ross Reid offers FORBES AFRICA a very sobering perspective with the following analogy to describe man-made diamonds.
“If a couple can’t fall pregnant using conventional methods, they do IVF where the baby’s origin of life is manmade. Is that not a real baby when it’s born?”
The room falls silent as all contemplate this question.
“So by that logic, it is a real diamond,” Reid states emphatically.
Reid is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Inception Diamonds, One of South Africa’s first Diamond companies to offer lab-grown diamonds and fine jewelry.
The world’s leading diamond producer, De Beers, however, has a different perspective.
“We view natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products as they have completely different production processes. Natural diamonds are created in the earth, under intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Each diamond is rare, finite and unique,” says Bianca Ruakere, a De Beers Group spokesperson.
Reid says he recognizes the market potential for global growth in being able to offer conflict-free, environmentally-friendly lab-grown diamonds, especially to the millennial market.
“With the creation of laboratory-grown diamonds, it allows you to offer the consumer the same thing optically, physically, and chemically at a big discount. So you can have the same beauty, the same hardness, the same look and the same feel for less money,” Reid says.
Large diamond producers have also recognized the same potential.
De Beers Group has been producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes for more than 50 years. “Last year, we launched Lightbox in the United States to market a range of fun, fashion jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. They are accessibly priced, and a distinct product offering compared with natural diamonds,” Ruakere says.
Price is not the only reason that encourages the market to opt for lab-grown diamonds. They are also other ethical factors such as having a guarantee that the rock on your finger is conflict-free.
Shogan Naidoo, who proposed to his fiancé, Preba Iyavoo, on Valentine’s Day at the popular independent cinema house, The Bioscope, did so with a healthy bank balance and clean conscience.
They were traditionally engaged in July last year, so by the time the ring engagement happened, Iyavoo was caught completely off-guard and was pleasantly surprised.
“Shogan is the most endearing person, but he’s not romantic in the slightest,” says a giddy Iyavoo, who recalls the proposal that happened in a filled theater, with a movie Naidoo had created just for her.
The couple are besotted with their lab-grown diamond. Naidoo says after doing exhaustive research to find the perfect ring to propose with, all conventional options had failed him.
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He says his final ring choice far exceeded his expectations in price and design. Naidoo explains that Iyavoo has a very specific preference and that he was not willing to compromise in getting her the perfect ring but the one he initially wanted was in the range of R80,000 ($5,500).
“We were planning a wedding and we’d just bought a house,” he says. The exorbitant cost of retail rings led him to search out of the box, and eventually the box returned with the perfect gem.
The couple who lead a very environmentally-conscious lifestyle, say they are especially proud to be the custodians of this ring because they are guaranteed it’s conflict-free and no miners were exploited.
Reid says he has to grapple with a great deal of scepticism because many are not ready to fully embrace the idea of lab-grown diamonds despite their advantages.
“The Federal Trade Commission has changed the definition of a diamond. It does not need to come from the ground.
“We have opened up the market for people to be able to afford beautiful pieces without compromising on quality,” Reid says.
Change is inevitable and with that, there will always be those resistant to it. But one thing is for sure, society’s relationship with diamonds are changing.
From Medicine To Nanotechnology: How Gold Quietly Shapes Our World
The periodic table of chemical elements turns 150 this year. The anniversary is a chance to shine a light on particular elements – some of which seem ubiquitous but which ordinary people beyond the world of chemistry probably don’t know much about.
One of these is gold, which was the subject of my postgraduate degrees in chemistry, and which I have been studying for almost 30 years. In chemistry, gold can be considered a late starter when compared to most other metals. It was always considered to be chemically “inert” – but in recent decades it has flourished and a variety of interesting applications have emerged.
A long, curious history
Gold takes its name from the Latin word aurum (“yellow”). It’s an element with a long but rather mysterious history. For instance, it’s one of 12 confirmed elements on the periodic table whose discoverer is unknown. The others are carbon, sulfur, copper, silver, iron, tin, antimony, mercury, lead, zinc and bismuth.
Though we’re not sure who discovered it, there’s evidence to suggest it was known to the ancient Egyptians as far back as 3000 BC. Historically, its primary use was for jewellery; this is still the case today, it’s also used in mint coins. Gold is also found in ancient and modern art: it’s used to prepare ruby or purple pigment, or as gold leaf.
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South Africa was once the top gold-producing country by far: it mined over 1,000 tonnes in 1970 alone. Its annual output has steadily fallen since then – the top three gold producing countries in 2017 were China, Australia and Russia, with a combined output of almost 1000 tonnes. South Africa has dropped to 8th position, even surpassed by Peru and Indonesia.
But gold’s uses and its chemical properties extend into many other areas beyond jewels and minted coins. From pharmaceutical research to nanotechnology, this ancient element is being used to drive new technologies that are pushing the world into the future.
Why and how it’s useful
Of the 118 confirmed elements in the periodic table, nine are naturally occurring elements with radioactive isotopes that are used in so-called nuclear medicine. Gold is not radioactive, but is nevertheless very useful in medicine in the form of gold-containing drugs.
There are two classes of gold drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. One is injectable gold thiolates – molecules with a sulfur atom at one end, and a chemical chain of virtually any description attached to them – found in drugs such as Myocrisin, Solganol and Allocrysin. The other is an oral complex called Auranofin.
Gold is also increasingly being used in nanotechnology. A nanomaterial is generally considered a material where any of its three dimensions is 100 nanometres (nm) or less. Nanotechnology is useful because it is not restricted to a particular material – any material could in principle be made into a nanomaterial – but rather a particular property: the property of size.
For example, gold in its bulk form has a distinct yellow colour. But as it is broken up into very small pieces it starts to change colour, through a range of red and purple, depending on the relative size of the gold nanoparticles. Such nanoparticles could be used in a variety of applications, for example in the biomedical or optical-electronic fields.
Another exciting advancement for gold in nanotechnology was the discovery in 1983 that a clean gold surface dipped into a solution containing a thiolate could form self-assembled monolayers. These monolayers modify the surface of gold in very innovative ways. Research into surface modification is important because the surface of anything can show very different properties than the bulk (that is, the inside) of the same material.
More to come
Gold nanoparticles have also proven to be an effective catalyst. A catalyst is a material that increases the rate of a chemical reaction and so reduces the amount of energy required without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. This is important because catalysis lies at the heart of many manufactured goods we use today. For example, a catalyst turns propylene into propylene oxide, which is the first step in making antifreeze.
Two discoveries in the 1980s made scientists look at gold catalysis differently. Masatake Haruta, in Osaka, Japan, made mixed oxides containing gold – and discovered the material was remarkably active to catalyse the oxidation of toxic carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Today, this catalyst is found in vehicle exhausts.
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At the same time Graham Hutchings, who was working in industry in Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered a gold catalyst that would work best for acetylene hydrochlorination. This process is central to PVC plastic, which is used in virtually all plumbing production. Until then, the industrial catalyst for this process was using environmentally unfriendly mercuric chloride material.
In my opinion, gold has many more uses that haven’t yet been discovered. There is much more to come in the world of gold research.
There will, in the next few years, be new developments in how the element is used in, amongst others, medicine, nanotechnology and catalysis. It will also find new applications in relativistic quantum chemistry (combining relativistic mechanics with quantum chemistry), surface science (the physics and chemistry of surfaces and how they interact), luminescence and photophysics – and more.
–Werner van Zyl; Associate Professor of Chemistry, Lecturer in sustainable biomass, energy and water systems, University of KwaZulu-Natal
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