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How Goodman Capital co-founder Daphne Teo leverages VC firm for good causes

She aims to further cancer research and effect change through her venture capital firm.

Growing up, Daphne Teo shared a close bond with her paternal grandfather. Her parents were busy establishing their construction and mining business, Sapphire Corporation, so child-rearing duties often fell to the elder Teo. He would cook for her, despite not cooking for anyone, and took her to her first day at kindergarten. “I refused to let him go home,” recalls the 35-year-old former national swimmer who won a bronze medal at the 1997 Southeast Asian Games. “I would run out of the classroom to ensure he was still there.”

He died from lung cancer when she was 12. Teo was sitting for her PSLE at the time and her mother didn’t tell her until she finished her last examination paper. “I really miss him,” she says.

Memories of her grandfather live on in her work. In 2013, after a successful investment banking career at Goldman Sachs, and a lucrative real estate venture in Myanmar, Teo and her Taiwanese-American husband, Jeffrey Lu, co-founded venture capital firm Goodman Capital.

The firm invests in early-stage ventures across Asia and the United States, mainly in the technology and biotechnology sectors. A key focus is cancer research. “Cancer is a tough disease. There’s not one cure, and more needs to be done.”

The couple also co-founded Engine Biosciences, a start-up platform that aims to accelerate drug discovery. The problem, Teo says, is that a lot of research is stuck in universities. “All the professors want to do is publish papers. To them, that’s the highest honour. But publishing papers will not save lives. You need to commercialise the drug, take it through clinical trials.”

“That’s where we come in. We go to different universities, look for great research, give (the scientists) advice on how to raise funds, and (commercialise their research).”

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She relishes the intellectual stimulation that comes with her work. “Two weeks ago, we went to San Diego to meet a professor who’s doing research on cancer. Before that, we were at the Cleveland Clinic meeting someone researching Alzheimer’s. Meeting all these people is inspiring. It doesn’t feel like we’re sacrificing our lives.”

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Teo, a former national swimmer, enjoys working out during her lunch breaks.

However, she did sacrifice her childhood for competitive swimming. Having started at the age of three, Teo was representing Singapore at international competitions by the age of six. With twice-daily training sessions interspersed with school, there was little time for much else. “What I sacrificed was my childhood. I didn’t know how to ride a bike until I was 18 or 19. I wasn’t allowed to, because I couldn’t risk injury.”

She was flying the national flag at the SEA Games, Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics at her peak at age 14, but her grandfather did not live to see that. His premature death spurs her on. “We want to make a change. Hopefully, in 20 to 30 years’ time, cancer will not be a problem.”

“It would be great if one day, whatever we invested in helps to save a loved one. That would be priceless.”

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OFF-DUTY

01 VINO HOUR

“Over the weekends, Jeffrey and I will dine out and have wine. I’ve recently started liking natural wines. Their flavours are really interesting.”

02 KITH & KIN

“Sundays are for family and I spend the whole day with my parents. We visit Jeffrey’s parents in Taiwan every two to three months.”

03 KEEP MOVING

“I’ve learnt how to cycle, rollerblade, dive and ski. My husband and I work out every day. I like barre and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts.”

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