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When the global pandemic shut down much of the ability for Singapore-based investment firm GIC to host its annual Bridge Forum event, Jeremy Kranz and Chris Emanuel, co-heads of GIC’s Technology Investment Group, knew they needed to still find a way to connect business leaders from around the world.
The Bridge Forum was founded in 2018 by GIC and Singapore’s Economic Development Board as an invitation-only community that connects global C-suite executives with innovative entrepreneurs and thought leaders in Silicon Valley.
The duo started making calls to CTOs and CEOs at major companies worldwide to identify their priorities. They wanted to match these players with the right enterprise technology companies for their companies’ needs.
Among the Bridge Forum’s global team in India, China and San Francisco, the group held calls with 45 different businesses that resulted in more than 30 connections within the last six months of 2020. The team also hosted a closed-door virtual event featuring 30 select women executives in enterprise tech.
The following interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.
How does GIC approach tech investing?
Emanuel: GIC set up 40 years ago and has been investing in tech ever since. We’ve been in the Bay Area since 1986. Being one of the earliest here, we built strong partnerships with tech investment managers in the space. Our mission is to be lifetime partners. This means we are looking for companies with long-term potential. We come in at an early stage, and build a long-term relationship as they are finding product market fit.
Our approach is to have teams on the ground in 10 countries where we have domain knowledge and local experts. We look at four areas: software, delivery networks, fintech and proptech. In fintech, GIC is a large fixed-income investor and can help connect those dots if a founder needs alternative forms of capital. In proptech, we are one of the biggest real estate developers in the world, and that helps us connect the dots there. As we spent time investing, the opportunity arose to create a platform so we created Bridge Forum, with Singapore’s Economic Development Board to drive relationships.
What are the origins of the Bridge Forum platform, and how has it evolved?
Kranz: If you go back in the last 20 years of venture capital, there are a few moments where the industry took a turn. One was U.S. venture funds planting a team outside the U.S. We credit the Andreessen Horowitz team with the briefing center model, but we knew we could do something different. We are international by design. Where our VCs are strong is at connecting tech to tech, connecting tech to non-tech far away and connecting non-tech outside the main Wall Street system. So the Bridge Forum was born out of an idea of a platform that provides value-add different than what fellow VCs can pull off. The trust of the VC community and the startups curate connections that can catalyze businesses we put together and that are thoughtfully done.
Since then, it has evolved from experimentation to commercialization. We’ve turned the Bridge Forum into a meaningful brand proposition. Prior to COVID, our last one was around financial services that included an all-star list of presenters. Then here comes COVID, and many attendees weren’t capable of making the trip. Instead, we set up nearly 50 C-suite meetings where we engaged partnerships and discussed what mattered to them. We’ve since held others in areas like IT security and supply chain software. We’ve made a lot of connections as a result.
Why are 1:1 connections for companies and investors so important, and did the global pandemic impact that?
Kranz: It is a steep learning curve to connect people from far-away regions and even steeper to do tech to non-tech connections. The curation is referring to years of relationship building so we understand needs and who are the decision-makers, so if you set up a 1:1 it catalyzes. It took two years to pick the categories before we even put on an event. We were going around and making sure we touched everyone before bringing them together.
How do you like to work with founders?
Kranz: We like to pose the question: “How can we be impactful to you?” We usually receive a wide range of answers. Sometimes it is something specific or about what will happen down the road. Those that bring a menu and help you pick what you want. We want to nail it on what we do well, and then call on the Bridge Forum, which sends a message to founders of what to expect. They know they can’t get that value from others.
Which tech sectors do you see primed for investment this year?
Emanuel: COVID was an accelerator to technology adoption, and we see that in fintech, delivery networks and proptech. We’ve built up a global team of franchises and domain knowledge, and focused on how to leverage that to be impactful partners. We are leaning into those and active in markets. Fintech has many sub verticals, and we are doing some exploration in cryptocurrency infrastructure.
Kranz: If a founder in one of the franchise areas is looking for a global network, and could be at the startup phase or whatever stage, we will move mountains to help people out. Within those categories of fintech, delivery networks and proptech, there are exciting things. We couldn’t predict certain things because of COVID, so our state of readiness is to bring value-add.
Emanuel: We were one of the largest investors in Affirm, leading a couple of rounds; it’s been a wonderful outcome with Affirm going public. The success of that, and the concept of buy now, pay later, has spread globally. We’ve been in the market in India and spent this morning speaking to a fintech entrepreneur about how installment loans are done in each market. It is catching attention in Latin America, and we are seeing innovation in that space.
Photos of Jeremy Kranz and Chris Emanuel courtesy of GIC.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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