THE INTERNATIONAL ENTREPRENEUR: Lili Luo of TriBeluga
It’s no surprise that TriBeluga founder Lili Luo spends most of her time on an airplane, given the fact that she divides her time working in Hong Kong, the mainland, Silicon Valley and South Korea. When we meet, she is in Hong Kong before jetting off to Beijing and Australia for business the next day.
Established in 2014, TriBeluga is the world’s only China-focused incubation company. The company invests in start-ups that can make a positive social and economic impact, and that aim to solve a problem in order to better society. Selected start-ups gain exposure to TriBeluga’s vast network of high-profile politicians – Luo has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and South Korean President Park Geun-hye – as well as technology-sector elite. “We are unique because we can bring together decision-makers from South Korea, the United States and China,” she explains.
Luo’s passion for helping out was emphatic from the get-go. “Money is a number and a tool, but it isn’t everything,” she says. TriBeluga was founded on the premise of “doing good and doing well”, and only invests in start-ups that focus on the health, education and environmental sectors. Luo and her team foster the growth of start-ups at different stages of development – from the seed stage to the business-development and more mature stages – and guide them closely in China. “In order for any technology products to succeed in China, all the engineers and members of your start-up have to understand the culture,” she says.
TriBeluga’s six-storey headquarters in Seoul houses two start-ups at the moment; the first an IoT (Internet of Things) company that is developing next-generation smart-farming products and the second a gesture-control technology company that helps users control smart devices without touch.
Born in Chengdu, Luo was raised in Hong Kong and Sydney, and studied organisational communications with a minor in marketing at California’s Pepperdine University. Hoping to continue in her mother’s footsteps in the hospitality industry, Luo obtained a degree in hospitality from Glion in Switzerland and worked in real estate in China in 2011. It was a chance meeting with some well-known names from Silicon Valley at the 2013 Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu that shifted her interests toward tech.
“I’m very competitive and I don’t like not understanding things,” Luo says. “But technology was an empty ground for me. I was lucky to meet Peter Thiel (co-founder of venture capital firm Founders Fund) and Joe Lonsdale (of Palantir, a software company specialising in data analysis) and I wanted to learn more.” Thiel, Lonsdale and Brian Singerman, also of Founders Fund, helped her consolidate her idea for TriBeluga.
Luo’s native Chinese background and multicultural experience are an advantage when it comes to bridging East and West, though it isn’t all smooth sailing. “Being a woman or an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but being a yellow-skinned, female entrepreneur is extremely hard,” says Luo, who is also known as a socialite in Chengdu. “People judge me when they see me – they think I’m having fun, and that I’m not serious about what I do. Some people have even asked me where my boss is!”
So how does she handle the negative energy? “I use tai chi,” she says, smiling and moving her hands to depict yin and yang. “I use it to transfer the hard-core aggressive business energy into something soft and strategic.”