The appetite for tech innovation is more voracious than ever, and Silicon Valley remains ground zero for cutting-edge disruptors in every field. But today it’s vital to feel as comfortable operating in Kuala Lumpur as in Cupertino. Can the “insider culture” that has fueled so many Bay Area startups go global?
For Ibrahim Ajami, head of Mubadala Ventures, the answer is a resounding yes. Mubadala has been a leading international investment firm for 15 years, and has been investing heavily in tech over the past decade. Now, the company is making an ambitious bid to build a network of startups with a truly global mind-set and ambition. “It made a lot of sense for us to start investing early on with technology companies,” Ajami says. “We also concluded that we cannot do that just by sitting in Abu Dhabi. We really have to be much more on the ground, connecting.”
After recently opening an office in San Francisco, its first in the U.S., Mubadala is demonstrating its commitment to helping young companies find their global footing—and the tech world is paying attention. While Silicon Valley may be flush with investors, not all of them can bring the experience, global connections, and cross-border know-how that are synonymous with the Mubadala brand. “It’s resonating very much with startup founders who are ready to scale globally,” Ajami says. “They are saying, ‘I’m ready to expand globally, and I need strong partners to help us and could benefit from an investor who has strong local presence with a global network.’ ”
MAKING HEALTHCARE AFFORDABLE
One such company is Color Genomics, which makes medical diagnostic tools that were once prohibitively expensive commercially available. Othman Laraki, CEO of Color, has a family history of cancer, and his mother carried a cancer-predisposing gene (the same one that prompted Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy). Through Color’s work, tests for breast-cancer risk that once cost thousands are now available online for around $250, altering the market and the lives of untold numbers of users, in the U.S. and abroad. “Through a mix of software and biology, we’re taking things that were thought of as being incredibly expensive and hard and doing them at large scale,” Laraki explains.
The appeal of such life-saving technology does not end at a nation’s border, which Laraki well understands. While Color had no trouble attracting investors, he says that Mubadala brought something unique to the table. “We thought a lot about our international strategy and what kind of partnerships would help us expand and have the type of footprint that would enable us to be strategic about different markets,” he says.
While Mubadala has been growing into its Bay Area office, Color has been planning its own launch in Abu Dhabi in September, thanks in large part to connections made through the fund. “It’s about having people on their side locally who help us understand: Who are the key people? What do they care about? What are considerations that you’d never think of? Those are the type of things that confer a big advantage,” says Laraki, who emphasizes the value of having the credibility of a well-known partner when bidding on large medical contracts in the Middle East.
“We felt that they would bring a different pool of DNA into our extended team,” Laraki says. Noting Mubadala’s deep connections in the Middle East and Asian markets, he continues, “We thought that they’d be one of the most strategic global investors that we could have, much more so than a standard venture fund from Europe, for example. I think their extended network is well beyond that of any normal venture fund.”
LOCAL KNOW-HOW, GLOBAL REACH
Equally attractive to Laraki was the marriage of this global network with local expertise. “One thing that the Mubadala team does well is understanding the Silicon Valley–style diligence process,” he says. “Most investments groups outside the valley have a hard time with that.”
Many tech startups struggle to prove their early economic worth through standard business metrics. That makes investors with a keen eye for knowing what to value in a fledgling tech company vital to the Silicon Valley economy. This is why Mubadala was eager to open a San Francisco office, to demonstrate its knowledge of and commitment to the community there. “Nothing is more impactful for a founder than knowing that his investor is as committed, as inspired, and as hard working on that business and that mission as he or she is,” Ajami says. “That deep connection to the founder is a really important part of why we are on the ground.”
With a local footprint and global reach, Mubadala is ready to partner with the next generation of innovators to bring life-changing technology to markets around the globe. “The fields of technology and venture capital are evolving and changing,” Ajami says. “But the world is a big place, and investors like Mubadala and SoftBank will play a key role in transforming the tech world over the next five to ten years. Don’t underestimate what the power of this global access can do for Silicon Valley.”
This story was created for and commissioned by Mubadala.