Angelica Anton has the kind of credentials that could make you question your own life achievements.
The Romanian-born entrepreneur speaks six languages, worked on a project for NASA, has a masters from Oxford University and served as an investment advisor for the Chinese government. This long list of achievements sounds like it’s from the big red This is Your Life book of a seasoned retiree, but it’s not. Anton’s still only 27.
Anton studied maths and computer science and, at the age of 18, worked on a space station design project for NASA. She moved to the UK in 2008 to study business management with communications at the University of Birmingham, and it was during her time there she developed a fascination with all things Chinese.
“I was doing a lot of extra-curricular reading about how business works in China and I was just fascinated by it. Pretty much immediately after I graduated I took a flight and went over there,” she said.
Anton completed a short internship with peer-reviewed academic journal of economics the China Economic Review and wrote much about the Chinese government. “But I couldn’t get an interview with anyone from the government,” she explained “and I developed this curiosity that made me want to work there – to be inside it and understand more.”
She managed to land a job as an investment advisor to the Chinese government, helping CEOs of large foreign companies to navigate the complexities of the Chinese business environment.
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Anton tells me that when she was offered a scholarship at Oxford University to complete a masters in Contemporary China studies, focusing in particular on China’s political economy, the Chinese government encouraged her to take it and implied the door would always be open for her to return. But her head was turned while she was studying in Oxford.
“I became vice president of the Oxford Entrepreneurs society and built this whole new set of contacts in the world of technology and startups and VCs, and I was just fascinated in something new all over again and felt it would be difficult to return to China,” she said.
Anton went on to work at London VC firm QVentures, “just because I had an offer,” she boasted. “I never applied for a job but this [firm] came and said ‘do you want to work for us?’ and I knew I wanted to do something with VCs, so I said yes.”
The beginnings of SILK Ventures
Anton claimed that while she was working at QVentures, the minister of commerce from China came over to the UK and suggested she could be a part of fostering a new golden era of UK-China relations.
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“He said that anything I wanted to do over here that related to business in China, the Chinese government would support. So that was really where the opportunity for SILK Ventures started,” she explained.
She set up the company in 2015 with the aim of helping startups expand to China and last year SILK Ventures put together an accelerator programme. The programme took 15 companies to China where they met with the minister of commerce, large Chinese corporations and big-name investors, with the aim of facilitating an easy entrance into the Chinese market.
“Since then, we have been working with individual companies and making sure they enter the Chinese market in a safe and efficient way.”
Her company now has staff members in London, Beijing, Schenzen and Silicon Valley, with the London team being based in the tech hub Level39 in Canary Wharf.
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SILK Ventures started raising its own investment fund in December and announced it earlier today. The $500m (£388m) fund will be used to invest in scaleup tech companies in Europe and the US – that’s not firms that are in their very early stages, but those with a proven product and some market traction.
The fund will be allocated to firms across all tech verticals, but will have a particular focus on those specialising in deep tech (AI, Robotics, Internet of Things) FinTech, deep science and HealthTech.
“We are pull focused rather than push focused – we are driven by the demand of the Chinese market, rather than us pushing companies into that market,” Anton said.
The fund’s team
The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC) – a special commission of the People’s Republic of China provided some 50% of the fund, but the other contributors haven’t been named.
While Anton is founding and managing partner of SILK Ventures, she sits alongside a team of partners that include Brewer Stone, an advisor on Alibaba’s IPO and former head of Asia at Prudential; Ian Foley, a Silicon Valley-based VC and entrepreneur; Matthew Brandt, who has more than 20 years of cross-border private equity experience with China; and Edward Zeng, founder of China Bridge Capital.
Anton tells me the fund already has some deals in the pipeline, which it plans to announce in July, but for now she is working on building the fund’s profile and meeting as many promising tech companies as possible.
She explained the fund will invest in companies alongside its strategic corporate partners in China, so its portfolio companies will not only gain funding, but connections in the Chinese market, too.
“So much of doing business in China is about getting relationships right. It’s just so different there and you have to play it so carefully, whether it’s with investors or government or stakeholders and even the end consumer – it’s all so different,” Anton explained.
She compares handling business relations in China with handling a mixture of volatile chemicals. “You have to be very very careful. A lot of people say they went to China and got burnt and that’s because they didn’t handle all of those chemical ingredients properly.”
People say that, in China, you must know someone for at least 10 years before you can get into business with them, Anton tells me. But she said there is a shortcut – you get an introduction from someone that’s already highly trusted by your desired connection.
“We have those connections, so we believe we provide companies with a great opportunity to connect with and really succeed in the Chinese market,” she concluded.