Game Theory is a regular series where we speak with a professional with insight into China’s business and tech scene.
As a serial entrepreneur, investor and technology strategist, Manav Gupta has spent his career solving challenges using technology – and has a proven track record. Gupta and his team at venture accelerator firm Brinc offer funding and assistance to startups ready to make an impact in China and around the world. Below, he shares with us how his firm has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, their fascinating accelerator programs and his thoughts on China’s entrepreneurial community.
How did you get started working in Greater China?
I came to visit family after college in the US and quickly recognized the wide array of white spaces that were up for grabs. I started with a computer repair business for foreigners in town, then an over-the-phone translation service. After that, [I launched] a food delivery business (well before FoodPanda and Delieveroo days) and then finally a digital marketing and product development firm focused on developing tech-enabled applications for various global Fortune 500 companies. I was definitely not focused when I got in, and tried to get involved in everything. I slowly learnt just how complex that was given how fast everything moved. Many incredible business owners and entrepreneurs were moving just as quickly to build up their infrastructure and create value for customers or businesses. I learnt the importance of priorities and focus and then built from there.
As a venture capital and accelerator firm, how has Brinc had to adapt due to the pandemic this year?
We’ve had to deprioritize all areas of innovation in our products and services and focus on the basics. Large corporates, institutional investors and stakeholders were not looking for innovation, major creativity or long-term bets over the last few months. They were all focused on their own challenges, managing their own stakeholders, delivering value for their customers and employees, and ultimately surviving. As everyone has gotten a grasp of the new normal, the budgets are coming back online, funds are flowing again and most stakeholders have figured out how to navigate the challenges ahead.
Brinc offers accelerator programs for everything from clean energy and food tech to IoT, mobility and more. Which programs are you most excited about and why?
Being a life-long vegetarian and personally very passionate about saving the animals, the FoodTech program we run has allowed me to find the true convergence between my passion and vocation. We back some of the world’s leading game-changers who aspire to create a more sustainable food system and also end animal suffering in the process. Our food systems are far from perfect and have massive room for growth and improvement. It’s unbelievable just how much wastage and inefficiency there is with only a fraction of the overall energy spent actually ending up being consumed.
“Chinese entrepreneurs have always had a go-get-it-done attitude and are not afraid to fail by trying”
We are investing in founders developing solutions in alternative proteins, cellular agriculture, agriculture technology, packaging and storage, food safety, food supply chain and food waste. We’re investing anywhere from USD80,000 to USD250,000 per company and have follow-on funds for the teams that demonstrate the traction. We’ve made over 25 AgriFoodTech investments already in the last few years, including companies like Phuture Foods, Avant, Born, Grounded, TurtleTreeLabs and many more.
With the private sector assuming a larger role in China’s economy, what are your thoughts on the country’s current legion of entrepreneurs?
There is boundless opportunity today just as there was 15 years ago when I first came and started working here. China is moving very quickly at reinventing itself as not only a major exporter but also with its strong domestic economy. Chinese entrepreneurs have always had a go-get-it-done attitude and are not afraid to fail by trying. That has always been the Chinese way since I first experienced China – try, and if you fail, then try, iterate and try again and again until you do. This is also the strategy that has built some of the most successful ecosystems and founders around the world, so I believe we will see more domestic players build strong domestic businesses that will not only scale through the Chinese mainland but also globally due to their strength in product, supply chains and funding as well as brand. I’m excited to see and continue to back the groundbreaking industry-first solutions and applications that come out of the Chinese market – I think the whole world is watching China’s businesses and entrepreneurs now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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[Cover image provided by Manav Gupta]