Newbie firm TransLink provides gateway to Asia

Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture firm TransLink Capital, which helps startups tap into Japan, Taiwan and Korea , has raised $50 million toward a $100 million first fund, Managing Director Toshi Otani tells PE Week.

The firm, launched in 2007, provides early stage financing and offers U.S.-based startups an entrée to potential customers and partners overseas.

TransLink’s limited partners include Japanese corporations Mitsubishi, NTT and Nikko Cordial Group; Korean companies Korea Telecom and SK Telecom; and Taiwanese semiconductor maker UMC.

Many of the marquee LPs in TransLink are in some way linked to one of TransLink’s managers. Otani, for example, worked for several years at Mitsubishi. Managing Director Jackie Yang was a corporate venture capitalist for UMC before co-founding TransLink. Venture Partner Kazunori Ozaki ran Nikko’s corporate venture arm. And Managing Director Jay Eum also ran a corporate VC arm, overseeing the U.S. operations of the Samsung Venture Investment Corp., which Otani did not name as a limited partner.

“We each have a corporate investment track record and we’ve been here in Silicon Valley for over a decade,” Otani says.

The firm’s method of adding value to its investments and hopefully attracting better deal flow is reminiscent of Granite Global Ventures (now known as GGV Capital). Since 2000, GGV has helped U.S.-based companies crack the Chinese market or develop ties to manufacturers there. And at least one of the partners of GGV Capital was instrumental in advising TransLink in the development of its investing model.

TransLink will not, however, look to open offices abroad or put feet on the ground in Asia to make local investments in its regions of expertise, though it has allocated up to 30% of its fund to invest in companies in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

TransLink is looking to differentiate itself by providing portfolio companies with a full set of contacts overseas. “We’re not three guys that just speak three languages. We’ve done this in a professional setting for a long time,” says Otani, who describes TransLink as “taking away the good parts of corporate venture capital, putting it in a financial setting and taking some of the red tape away.”

For example, the firm recently put its strategy to work, leading an $11 million Series B investment in Mountain View, Calif.-based camera peripheral company Eye-Fi, which sells digital storage cards equipped with Wi-Fi chips designed to facilitate photo sharing. Other investors in the round included LMS Capital, Opus Capital and Shasta Ventures.

USA!! Otani, who joined the board of the company, says that early Eye-Fi investor Rob Coneybeer, managing director of Shasta Ventures, brought the deal to TransLink when he thought Eye-Fi needed help breaking into Asian markets. The TransLink team introduced Eye-Fi to several undisclosed corporations over three months before the firm invested.

“If you look at all of the top camera manufacturers, five out of the six are based in Japan,” Otani says. “It just makes a lot of sense to tap directly into that if you want to globalize.”

Taking Eye-Fi or any one of its nine portfolio companies on a tour also serves as a form of due-diligence for the TransLink team. The connections that the partners have to large corporations give them insight into complex markets and help them vet would-be investments.

“When we engage with a company we’re really excited about, we help them with business development and may even take them on a tour to our three countries and introduce them to our partners there,” Otani says. “To the company, we’ve hopefully proved our value-add. Plus we get unsolicited feedback about it in our native tongue, so nothing is lost in translation.”