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A path to technology: from China to Silicon Valley

Tami Zhu, MBA ’97

Tami Zhu
Courtesy Photo

Tami Zhu grew up with a wandering blind eye, a rare condition known as amblyopia. Not only did she struggle with her vision, but she was teased by other children. “It hurt,” she says. But she adds that it shaped her character and helped her to persevere in the face of adversity and look beyond physical limitations.

Zhu earned a bachelor’s in computer science from Peking University and a master’s in computer science from the University of California, San Diego, before pursuing her MBA at MIT Sloan. Today, she is a successful technology executive specializing in artificial intelligence and investment. She was a senior leader at AOL Ventures, IPG Mediabrands, and Excite@Home. 

Combining her US experience with her cultural background, she became the US-based CEO of two Chinese AI startups: Rokid and Kika Tech. She moved both companies from China to Silicon Valley to give them a global technology presence, raising more than $250 million in funding. 

She started a tech-focused hedge fund called SIP  four years ago and successfully raised a second fund  from a broader group of investors in 2020. SIP II saw nearly triple-digit rates of return during its first two years, and she is planning to raise an institutional fund in 2022. 

Zhu says she always saw the tech field as her destiny. The daughter of two professors, she was raised in China in a fiercely competitive family. When she was 12, her dad was a visiting professor in the US and told stories about the innovation he saw in Silicon Valley. Named one of the most influential women in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times in 2017 and by Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2018, she is now a Distinguished Career Institute Fellow at Stanford. 

“My mother always told me, ‘You only have monovision. You need to work twice as hard.’ I always really worked hard. It became a habit,” says Zhu, whose eyes were corrected eight years ago. She is grateful “beyond words” for her experience at the Institute. “I integrated the coursework and the knowledge into my work style, but the greatest impact on me was MIT’s rigorous spirit,” she says, adding she desired MIT so much she skipped her honeymoon to pay the tuition.

After living in 39 locations in 13 years, Zhu has settled down in the Bay Area. When she’s not working, she speed-hikes 30 miles a week and spends time with local MIT classmates. She lives with her immediate family, her golden retriever Pokee, her mother-in-law, and her parents.

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