A money manager to some of Hong Kong’s richest people is teaming up with a former executive from China’s SenseTime Group Inc. to look for early-stage investments in artificial intelligence.
VMS Group, a multifamily office with more than $4 billion in assets under management, jointly started the venture 3Cap AGI Fund this week with Esther Wong, who spent more than five years running strategic investments as a managing director at Chinese AI giant SenseTime.
Local conglomerate billionaire families have committed about half of the targeted $150 million, said Elton Cheung, a partner at Hong Kong-based VMS. Wong, founder and chief investment officer of 3Capital, will head the fund.
This marks the latest example of money flowing into artificial intelligence after ChatGPT’s launch just over a year ago drew the world’s attention to the technology.
Investors poured more than $21 billion into generative AI startups in the first nine months of 2023, up from just over $5 billion last year, according to data from PitchBook. Much of that has come from tech giants like Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which bet billions on AI startups to cement their position in the rapidly evolving market.
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“We are basically looking at very early-stage investments,” tapping Wong’s AI knowledge and global network, Cheung said in an interview. “Of course the risk is higher, but when AI startups get momentum from the market, the upside for valuation growth from the later rounds is also limited.”
VMS, founded in 2006, already runs two funds that invest in various sectors including internet technology and pharmaceuticals around the world. The first launched in 2015 with $150 million and the second fund in 2018 for $350 million. The family office is targeting to raise an additional $300 million fund in the first quarter of 2024, Cheung said.
That fund will focus on health care and tech businesses that support the aging population and digital transition in China, a market from which many international investors and global funds have been retreating over the past years. VMS sees more upside for those two sectors as it expects more policy support, while the outflows have brought down asset prices.
“We can now find the right company at a much lower valuation compared to the level years ago,” said Cheung. “We are bullish on the medium- to long-term outlook of China, and we think it’s the right time to look at it.”