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Different Approach

The financial backers of BGI — which include the Gates Foundation, Sequoia Capital, as well as Chinese groups — say the firm represents a new kind of Chinese technology company, the Financial Times' Henny Sender writes.

Many BGI executives have been educated abroad and, Sender says, have little patience with the status quo in China, and the company itself has a complex relationship with the Chinese establishment. By moving to Shenzhen, she writes that BGI has been able to take advantage of the distance from Beijing as well as the region's designation as a 'special economic zone' and its growing technology sector.

"They exiled themselves to be far away from the traditional government and scientific funding establishment," one investor tells the Financial Times. "And they have only been forgiven [by the establishment] because they make China look good."

BGI is also looking, Sender adds, to add an international scope with its purchase of US-based Complete Genomics.

At the same time, she notes that the company's unusual setup — having concurrent research and commercial efforts — may pose a challenge.

"That dual mandate means that it is not easy to set priorities," she writes. "They must be visionaries and business strategists at the same time, balancing the demands of basic research with more commercial undertakings such as developing diagnostic kits and tests."