Neoteny Labs

November 30th, 2009 marks my first official day as Investment Manager at Neoteny Labs. I’ve had many friends ask me what I’d be up to, now that I’ve left government service. I thought I’d talk about it here so that I can point future queries to this blog post instead.

Neoteny Labs

Joi and I are in the process of getting everything set up as we speak, but the general idea is for Neoteny Labs to be a Singapore-based early-stage incubator and fund for Asian start-ups in the (1) Consumer Web, (2) Mobile Applications and (3) Consumer Hardware & Electronics Design space, with a focus on markets in the United States, Japan, Middle East and Southeast Asia.

We’ll also be joined by Reid Hoffman, who in an advisory capacity will serve as the Chairman of the Investment Committee. Joi will be the General Partner of Neoteny Labs, and will decide on investments by the fund together with Reid. I on the other hand, get to play the role of the scrappy Investment Manager ;-).

Joichi Ito (@joi)Reid Hoffman

Anyone in the venture capital scene in the Valley will probably tell you the venture capital paradigm has been irrevocably changed. Too much money has been raised, and too many funds are chasing too few quality early-stage deals. Many second and third-tier funds will find it challenging to sustain returns on their funds, leading to an inevitable consolidation in the space.

VCs and entrepreneurs across the United States, China and India are also stuck in what Joi termed as ‘local gravity wells’, and often find it challenging to break across their domestic boundaries, be it from a funding or market perspective. Yet, there’s a whole world of great and cool ideas waiting to be tapped upon. Clearly, some form of “idea arbitrage” awaits.

Neoteny Labs was founded amidst these turbulent times, to prove our investment thesis and offer an effective alternative to the early-stage venture capital model.

  1. We intend to impart the science of repeatable innovation at the formative stages of tech start-ups, rather than (1) leaving it to chance or (2) until a start-up has the resources, i.e. raised institutional financing, to pay for it.
  2. Where practical, we will strive to assemble a diverse international team of entrepreneurs and engineers in the low-friction and capital-efficient environment that is Singapore, and facilitate rapid iterations of their ideas.
  3. We will augment the teams with (seasoned and experienced mentors) the likes of Joi Ito, Reid Hoffman, Shawn Fanning, Cory Ondrejka, Jun Murai, John Seely Brown, Dave Morin, IDEO and Pivotal Labs, to help with product, design, scaling and follow-on financing.

All of the above, so as to increase the start-ups’ odds of success – stay tuned for more details. In the meanwhile, you can check out Joi’s post about the meaning behind Neoteny.

Disclaimer: Neoteny was also used as the name of a previous incubator Joi founded in Japan. That vehicle has since ceased investments, and we have successfully acquired the rights to use the “Neoteny” name.

Wish us luck ;-).

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.