BRV Fund Manager and Author: Lauren (Ji Hyun) Han
Overview of R42 Group
R42 actively invents and finances deep science ventures. The team will work with you from the pre-seed inventing stage through to growth stage. The team is excited to work with passionate teams who are working to develop revolutionary technology to address pressing needs of our time. The team’s expertise in science, strategic planning, financing, and a global network enables founders to grow and cultivate their ideas into reality.
Would you mind sharing how you started your career in venture capital?
Originally, I grew up in Shanghai and moved to Los Angeles for high school. After high school, I studied philosophy and psychology at UC Santa Cruz. This might be a little bit weird especially for international students because it requires a lot of reading and writing. However, it was about minds and machines that I learned; how do we interpret minds, machine consciousness, and cognitions? I was at computational cognition lab for three years, which is a highly interdisciplinary plan research field, including psychology, philosophy, computer science, engineering, and design thinking. My focus was on how to use AI issues with deep learning to mimic human brain functions, especially the linguistic part. My research was focused on how to tokenize human language like the way how the natural language processing analyzes and uses human language. I am not an engineer or a computer scientist, but I have learned to use AI to better understand how human consciousness works. Afterwards, I was helping one of my family friends who is trying to go to IPO in Nasdaq. They needed someone who could be a translator for negotiation. So, they picked me. I wanted to learn the skills and I joined the team. They did not go to IPO eventually, but they like me a lot. At that time, investing in Silicon Valley was very popular. My partner and I built the fund for $20 million. The first fund we invested in was the Berkeley SkyDeck Fund. The SkyDeck Fund I originally raised $20 million, but we were the 21st million-dollar investor.
The SkyDeck Fund was the first investment deal I got. One memorable anecdote to share is that when my boss asked me to make the investment decision, he was on his way to Safari hunting tour in Africa for 10-days’ vacation and told me that there were ten days till the fund closing date. While I had no finance program and no idea what a venture company would do, I spent the whole ten days going over the 272 pages of the investment and talking with all lawyers, CPAs, and other investors. Then, we eventually wrote the check. That was the first check I wrote. Reflecting on my prior years of investment experiences, I believe what really makes a qualifiable investor is going over more than 1000 startups per year at RAVV time.
Moreover, back in 2016, university-level incubation and investment were rare and considered “too early” for venture. However, based on the inspiration of the SkyDeck, I built RAVV investment philosophy focusing on college innovation ecosystem, which is one of the earliest in the venture market. RAVV’s main investment focus was on top college affiliated startups backed with hard science. We loved young, innovative college students who usually are viewed as “un-investable” and helped them to cover their idea to real startup.
During your VC journey as Team Lead at RAVV, is there any memorable investment that you have executed?
One of the companies I enjoyed working with is an immersive AR, VR company, which was my first incubator team. I have developed a close relationship with the team over those years. One of the most memorable moments I have had is when the team signed their names in a bottle of wine and wanted to open it with me when they go to IPO. I still keep that wine and am looking forward to popping it open in the next 3 to 4 years with them.
You have moved on to GTCardio as Strategic Director. What were some of the motivations?
Right before the COVID hit, GTCardio was in our incubator. It was a very promising company. When COVID hit, the company just asked me to introduce some new investors. After two weeks, I realized I had been working with them for so long that I thought I might as well join the team. Jumping into a portfolio company is very common and a lot of fun. I have got to see a lot of aspects which I did not get. To be a better investor in the future, I would have to create synergy with entrepreneurs.
What I really learned is that great technology is not necessarily a good product and a long way to a successful company. The core tech is important, but it is equally important to have a sustainable product design, business strategy, and long-term vision. From GTCardio, my role changed from a picking investor to a serving investor—helping a startup that has great tech but would fail to be a successful company.
How was your transition into R42, which has a heavy focus on AI longevity?
There are 4 things we do: healthcare management system, computational medicine, AI IoT, and genetic therapies. Making a longevity investment should be based on AI, and you do not know how big a market could be. However, AI can potentially solve relevant issues. It is more about analyzing data. Indeed, it is changing the landscape and will change even faster and more deeply.
In the biotech and longevity industry, AI is making those startups venture-stage investable by leveraging the development to be both shorter with less cost and with more predictable results; from 12-15 years, multi-billion dollar, and an odd game to 3-5 years, multi-billion dollar, and data-oriented solution. The good part about this is that the market size is potentially every human being.
For an investment target for the next year, what are key drivers?
There are 2 things I want to say about those. I would say venture capital has become less democratic. All the AI requires a lot of computation powers. Unless we can solve the cost of computation and power increase, it will be only the big players in the game. It requires a lot of money and knowledge to do so. They must realize the next 5 years with AI will be totally different. The second part, I would say, at the personal level, is transitioning one’s mindset from picking to serving. I view investment as a chance to join a great company you like, a solution that you want to solve. If you know a solution better than the firm itself, why don’t you go build it? In VC, you focus on how you could help the company.
A lot of people think VC is about picking the good companies behind the desk, but for me, VC is indeed a way to join great companies and help them to succeed. Maybe, that is why my portfolio companies love me a lot.