Welcome to our Member Spotlight series where we give a profile overview of our many diverse members. For this deep dive, we spoke to Rob Salvagno, Head of Corporate Development and Cisco Investments.
Tell us about your firm – what makes it different?
Cisco Investments is the strategic venture capital arm of Cisco and is something we have been active in for three decades now, in good markets and in bad. The difference is that we have an unrivaled history of working with the start-up ecosystem – as a partner, an investor and as an acquiror. We take this role seriously — outside innovation has been a fundamental part of Cisco’s story and the startup ecosystem will continue to play a major role in our future as well.
Where did your firm’s name come from?
Cisco Investments defines the value proposition that only a company like Cisco — with our history of innovation, extensive sales and channels capabilities, and overall market presence — brings to our entrepreneurs and portfolio companies. All of our portfolio companies have an ability to tap into the parts of Cisco that are most relevant to them. For one portfolio company, that may be a very tight relationship with our business unit or sales team, resulting in having a product integrated with a Cisco solution and sold by Cisco’s GTM. Another portfolio company looking for early product/market fit would value timely access to feedback from the right set of customers.
What defines your portfolio?
Cisco Investments is a strategic investor with an expansive investment mandate. Investments represent the best opportunity for Cisco to begin developing relationships with startups in active and emerging areas of interest for Cisco, our customers and our partners. We focus our investment activity around two fronts – first, areas that are immediately core or adjacent to Cisco, and second, emerging market opportunities that may be a few horizons out from our existing businesses today.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
We’ve significantly expanded where and how we invest from a focus and structure standpoint. From a structure standpoint, we have the ability to write a $500K seed check to help get an idea off the ground or a $30M check to accelerate a strategic partnership. With regard to our focus, we don’t limit ourselves to investing solely in the markets that Cisco participates in but take a broad view to where future innovation comes from. We are willing to take venture risks to gain exposure to all facets of innovation.
Why is your firm a part of NVCA?
We believe that partnership and collaboration are key to a successful corporate venture practice. As an investor, we’re always working alongside other investors and seek opportunities to engage – not compete – with the venture ecosystem. Even though we’ve been doing this for nearly three decades, we’re constantly reminded that there’s still much we can learn from others.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.
Cisco has been a consistent investor for the last three decades across good markets and bad. We will always participate in the opportunities that we find are most strategically relevant, regardless of ever-changing market dynamics.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2019?
We believe we must constantly look at how we can adapt to be most relevant to the market. The themes and priorities we focus on change but the strategy of how Cisco gets there will always contain a strong outside component. To this point, earlier this year we launched Decibel, the first early stage, independent venture firm to be launched by a major technology company. This is just one example of how we are constantly enhancing our own capabilities as well.
Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less.
Big impact through strategic insight!
Cassie Ann Hodges serves as Director of Communications at NVCA where she leads NVCA’s strategic communications, branding and content development, and media efforts to better support and empower the venture community, startups, and entrepreneurs. She also oversees the NVCA StratComm Peer Group network and programming.