Hanson Cheah ‘88, SM ‘89, could be a poster child for the value of the alumni network. A global entrepreneur based in Hong Kong, Cheah has participated in MIT club events in more than 12 countries. He has worked for and with other alumni, and he married classmate Kenneth Yeung’s sister, Shan Shan. And he cofounded AsiaTech Ventures, the first venture capital company focused exclusively on the Asian IT industry, with James Yao ‘89.
Cheah was working for Transpac Capital–a company founded by Martin Tang, SM ‘72, Victor Fung ‘66, and Christopher Ka-Cheong Leong ‘65, PhD ‘70–when he and Yao decided to launch their firm in 1997. The idea was to concentrate solely on the IT sector. “We were literally the only game in town at that time,” Cheah says. The friends pioneered in Asia what Cheah calls the Silicon Valley way of investing: successful entrepreneurs focusing on building early-stage companies in technology areas where they have expertise. By contrast, says Cheah, most investors in Asia in the late 1990s were former bankers who favored low-risk ventures like pre-IPO deals with mature, profitable companies.
In the past decade, Cheah and Yao have invested in several companies started by other MIT alumni, including Openwave, founded by Ben Linder ‘87, and ECnet, founded by Toon-King Wong ‘89. AsiaTech Ventures now manages $180 million covering five technology markets. Cheah focuses on the consumer Internet and wireless sector.
Cheah’s business acumen is no secret. In 2000 AsiaWeek called him one of the 25 Digital Elite and The Edge magazine cited him as one of the “50 Malaysians who will shape our new economy.” He just finished a two-year stint chairing the Hong Kong Venture Capital Association. The most meaningful praise, he says, was being named one of the World Economic Forum’s 2006 Young Global Leaders, along with iRobot chairman Helen Greiner ‘89, SM ‘90.
When he’s not working, Cheah spends time with Shan Shan and their two sons and plays guitar in a band called the Late Bloomers. The group formed when its members–including several Wellesley alums–were in their mid-30s, “well past the sell-by date of most people in a rock career,” he says, chuckling. No matter. He doesn’t plan to quit his day job anytime soon.