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Startups

Jerry Yang's latest tech interests: Space exploration and longevity

Yahoo co-founder's fund sees Southeast Asian logistics a promising area for startups

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang speaks at the Nikkei Forum "Innovative Asia" in Singapore on Jan. 17. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

SINGAPORE -- Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang is on the hunt for unusual investments, including space exploration and longevity, where he sees the highest potential for growth.

"We are trying to branch out into areas where normal venture capital would not think of," Yang said on Jan. 17 at the Nikkei Forum "Innovative Asia" here. "We have efforts in space exploration and using space as the next frontier."

Through his fund AME Cloud Ventures, Yang has invested in startups such as Accion Systems, a U.S. company that develops advanced satellite propulsion systems.

Founded in 2014 by two MIT engineers, Accion produces small ion thrusters designed to increase the life span and mobility of satellites and other vehicles in space. Besides Yang's AME Cloud, its other investors include aerospace giant Boeing.

Extending the healthy human life span is another area that draws his interest.

There is little evidence to suggest that older people today are experiencing their later years in better health than their parents, the World Health Organization says.The U.N. agency warns of negative implications for the elderly and for society if these added years are "dominated by declines in physical and mental capacity."

Yang wants to change that. His venture capital fund invests heavily in health-related startups such as cell therapy company Berkeley Lights.

"The primary purpose is not to invest just to make money," Yang said. "We invest so that the next generation can find a way to impact and change the world."

Berkeley Lights, a startup launched in 2011, announced a collaboration earlier this month with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine to work on cell immunotherapy, which involves cancer treatments that strengthen the body's natural defenses.

In early 2018, it entered into an exclusive Japanese sales agreement with camera and optical equipment maker Nikon for Beacon, a multipurpose platform for cell research and development.

In the Asian startup scene, the Yahoo co-founder sees investment potential in logistics. With the sector not fully developed in Southeast Asia, Yang said greater efficiencies created from new technologies could make the next generation of logistics "very interesting."

"The technology today is way better than 20 years ago," he said. "Adopting these new technologies in the current society may mean much more rapid growth for the region."

Speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review, Yang cautioned young entrepreneurs that more money and more resources don't ensure success.

"The chance of becoming successful remains the same, because although it is now easier to become [an entrepreneur], there is also more competition," he said.

To improve their chance of success, startups should "find a way to differentiate" themselves, Yang said.

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