US-China impact investing M&A venture capital private equity business development strategic alliances cross-border government relationships
Tao Zhang is Founding Managing Director of Dao Ventures, a China-focused impact investment consortium with co-headquartered offices in both China and the US that primarily consist of ACBridge Global Advisors, China Impact Fund, and New Ventures Global. The various entities of Dao Ventures have so far made and/or facilitated investments of over $200 million into China’s environmental small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Tao is Co-Founder and Managing Director of China Impact Fund, the chief entity under Dao Ventures, that is considered China's first impact fund that specializes in financing and accelerating SMEs providing environmentally friendly products and services as well as companies with an environmental value proposition for the country's Base of Pyramid (BoP) population, primarily those in sustainable land use, clean energy and water access.
Prior to this, Tao served as Global Chief Operating Officer of New Ventures, a center of environmental entrepreneurship housed at the World Resources Institute (WRI) that helped environmentally-focused SMEs in six key emerging markets compete in a global economy. In this role, Tao managed New Ventures’ Global Hub in Washington, DC and its global network of six Local Centers in Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Mexico. During this time, he led the six Local Centers to nearly double investments into New Ventures companies to nearly $400 million. New Ventures was later successfully transitioned out of WRI with the objective of giving all local and regional centers independence to move into their next phase of development.
Tao is also a co-founder of another Dao Ventures company called ACBridge Global Advisors (formerly ACBridge Capital Advisors), a China-US advisory firm where he and his team advise both Chinese and American SMEs on their internationalization efforts in the environmental, telecom and technology sectors. Before this, he held senior management positions in both China and the US with a number of technology start-up and multinational companies successively. Tao started his career working both as a journalist and a policy analyst at the Xinhua News Agency, including a stint in Brussels where he covered the European Union (EU) and advised China’s central government on EU-related commercial and economic policies.
Tao received a BA from Beijing Foreign Studies University, an MBA from Wake Forest University, and an MPA from Harvard University as a Mason Fellow. He also completed an executive education program in private equity and venture capital at the Harvard Business School. Tao is an avid reader, a frequent speaker, and a prolific writer when he has the time – his articles have been published and re-published extensively in leading Chinese and international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal (Chinese), Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and online portals such as Sina.com. Tao is a native speaker of Mandarin and has an associate degree in French.
Tao is a Fellow of the Aspen Institute's China Fellowship Program and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
Founder & Managing Director
June 2012 - present
Aspen China Fellow
The Aspen Institute
April 2015 - present
Wake Forest University
Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)
Beijing Foreign Studies University
China Impact Fund of Dao Ventures
Entitled China Crowdfunding Report, the publication points out that despite various challenges, crowdfunding offers a viable and innovative new way for Chinese social and environmental SMEs to gain access to finance, especially on a moving forward basis. SGBs play an important role in solving the country’s environmental and social problems but their capacity has been limited by financing constraints.
The report also examines the inter-relationship between impact investing and crowdfunding, with a conclusion that Crowdfunding, especially targeted towards social and environmental SMEs, will not only aid China’s economy and SE sectors, but increase awareness of impact investing within the country, which remains a new concept in China by itself.
The authors have compared regulations on crowdfunding in China and the US, pointing out that though certainly not the path of least resistance, US-based crowdfunding platforms could be a choice for Chinese SMEs.
At the end, the report sets out action-oriented recommendations for social and environmental SMEs who are interested in leveraging crowdfunding to scale up their businesses in China, addressing needs of personal and professional network, clear positioning and messaging, structured plan and good execution, as well as time commitment from SMEs.
China Impact Fund of Dao Ventures
China Impact Fund (CIF), managed by Dao Ventures, launched a bilingual (English and Chinese) report on impact investing in China in collaboration with New Ventures China (NVC). Entitled Creating the Chinese Dream, this report serves as a practitioner’s guide to impact investing in China’s green SMEs and closely examines the role of impact investing in creating the Chinese dream marrying people’s longing for prosperity with a sustainable China.
The report points out that China needs a new development model after 30 plus years’ fast economic growth and argues for the instrumental role that impact investing and environmental entrepreneurship can play in this process. All SME case studies in the report are existing CIF and/or NVC portfolio companies, as the report says that lack of proven success cases could lead to a perception of ‘all talk and no action’ on the part of those advocating impact investing.
The report outlines the services needed by China’s environmental SMEs and along this line, discusses the importance of constructing an ecosystem for undertaking impact investing more effectively by engaging multiple interested stakeholders, including investors, entrepreneurs, policy makers and multinational companies.
At the end, the authors set out 11 action-oriented recommendations for investors who are interested in impact investing in China, addressing needs for efficient intermediation, better enabling infrastructure and stronger adsorptive capacity for capital.
This report is primarily concerned with the environmental impact of financially sustainable impact investing, with a minor focus on the social aspects of this emerging investment asset class. However, many of the concepts, mechanisms and recommendations discussed in this report are considered equally applicable to both.
CIF is China’s first impact investor focused on ‘missing middle’ environmental SMEs, including those with an environmental value proposition for the country’s BoP population. CIF works with NVC under an impact investment plus accelerator model to support these companies in financing, enterprise acceleration and impact assessment. To date, CIF has selectively invested in NVC companies from several different environmental sub-sectors.
Lead authors of the report include Tao Zhang, Founding Managing Director of CIF & Founding Managing Director of Dao Ventures, and Walter Ge, Venture Partner of CIF & Country Director of NVC.
Center for Asian Philanthropy and Society
Beijing, China – The Center for Asian Philanthropy and Society (CAPS) recently published an English-language impact case study on Landwasher, a China Impact Fund (CIF) portfolio company that provides water-free, environmentally friendly toilet solutions.
In collaboration with its in-country partners and local experts, CAPS conducted a landmark study to understand best practices specific to 30 excellent social delivery organizations (SDO)—non-profits and social enterprises—across 11 Asian economies. The study aimed to examine the characteristics and strategies of successful SDOs in Asia and also to look into how such local organizations have taken root and thrived. Landwasher was the only environmental enterprise selected for this initiative.
Entitled Landwasher: Guardian of the Blue Earth, the case study was authored by a CIF team led by Tao Zhang, founder of Dao Ventures that is a parent consortium encompassing the CIF. The case study provides a narrative of how investor-turned-entrepreneur Hao Wu, founder of Landwasher, set up an environmental enterprise for waterless toilet solutions to directly address issues of water scarcity, sanitation and hygiene in China, having recognized the severity of related environmental challenges facing China.