Kai-Fu Lee Celebrates Launch of 12 Startups

A year after he co-founded the Beijing-based incubator Innovation Works, Kai-Fu Lee announced in China on Monday that the organization has launched a dozen startups.

Lee, chairman and CEO of the organization, launched Innovation Works shortly after he resigned as head of Google China. So far, the projects coming out of the IT incubator program have a definite Google-like feel.

Among the companies under the Innovation Works umbrella are Tapas, which has developed a smartphone operating system based on Android and tailored for Chinese users; Wonderpod, which has developed a software assistant for Android phones; Umeng, which provides an analytics tool for mobile developers in China; Photo Wonder, which has developed mobile phone software for enhancing and sharing photos; and Ascending Cloud, which publishes social and Web-based games.

Innovation Works launched last year with $115 million in backing from WI Harper Group (lead investor), Foxconn Technology Group, Legend Holdings, Steve Chen (co-founder of YouTube), Silicon Valley Bank and Foundation Capital, among others, according to a press release. Lee, citing U.S. regulatory restrictions, declined to say if fund-raising was complete.

A year ago, when Innovation Works was just starting to roll out, Lee said he expected the organization would employ a “fluid workforce” of about 150 or so, including portfolio company programmers and engineers, who would leave and be replaced by new crops of talent as the startups would spin off on their own.  Over the weekend, Lee said in an email interview with me that, yes, the organization has about 200 on staff, including Director John Woo, one of about 10 ex-Googlers to follow him to Innovation Works.

Others on board include Jerry Tsai, a geek celebrity in China, whose book, “Sleepless in Java,” is a must-read for programmers in college, Lee says. “He is our architect, whose job responsibilities are to advise our portfolio companies in technology issues. He is also our chief evangelist, whose responsibilities are to spread our message to the development community,” Lee says.

Innovation Works has attracted plenty of others to help lure interested startup candidates. Entrepreneurs at Innovation Works get to meet with Lee regularly and hear from such guests as Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Kai and Charles Huang, the brothers behind the videogame Guitar Hero.