Q&A with Madura Wijewardena, head of business development, Comcast Ventures
1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it for?
I am the head of business development at Comcast Ventures. Comcast Ventures is the venture capital affiliate of Comcast Corporation, which is a global media and technology company with three primary operating businesses in Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal and Sky.
My role is to design and execute partnerships that drive strategic value in both directions between Comcast and our portfolio companies. In this role, I am especially focused on partnerships that leverage Comcast’s unique platforms with our portfolio. These unlock strategic value and efficiencies inside Comcast and deliver unique value-added benefits to our portfolio.
I have been in my current role at Comcast Ventures for nearly two years – I transferred to Comcast Ventures in January 2019 after nearly six years at Comcast Corporation.
2. What attracted you to CVC?
We think of Comcast Ventures as the Lewis and Clark of Comcast exploring five to seven years into the vast terrain of unknowns for opportunities to drive strategic value. The ability to look ahead into the future for these opportunities, and the chance to unlock strategic value inside our large and complex operating business units by partnering with them on these opportunities, attracted me to Comcast Ventures. I think of my role as being both in the future and the present. I find this exciting because one without the other would not be as rewarding.
3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
Comcast Ventures has more than 120 companies in our portfolio. I am proud of working with our CFO to create a rigorous process for identifying strategic alignments and the ones to prioritize for partnerships based on various metrics. This rigorous focus on prioritization enabled us to focus on quality over quantity and deliver value to Comcast and the portfolio. I am also proud of the creativity and teamwork behind a partnership I led between Comcast, Comcast Ventures and a Fortune 50 company to deliver value-added services (name withheld due to confidentiality). According to our partner, this was the first time it had executed a deal of this kind, which delivered significant revenues to them and significant bottom-line benefits to our portfolio.
4. What have been your biggest challenges?
When I joined Comcast Ventures, I was entirely new to the venture capital ecosystem. The transactions that I had previously worked on were with large publicly traded companies. The fast pace of the venture capital ecosystem was something to adjust to and learn from. The fast pace and can-do spirit of venture investing and startups is a valuable addition to the experiences I gained from working with large companies.
5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?
My ambition is to support Comcast to always look ahead and create the structures internally to take advantage of these opportunities. Working in that interplay between the startup and large company universes is profoundly exciting, and with the right structures and focus both the parent company and the portfolio will thrive.
6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
CVCs could do more to focus on empowering underrepresented minorities, in particular, Black and Hispanic, to thrive as entrepreneurs and participants in corporate VC funds. This means not just finding staff members or allocating capital to these communities but rather taking a holistic or wrap-around approach to supporting diverse entrepreneurs and CVC employees. In this way, I strongly believe CVCs and institutional VC funds could learn from the initiatives of parent companies. An example of this wrap-around approach is Comcast’s Rise Program, which provides access to training, services, capital and much more to small businesses and underrepresented entrepreneurs.
7. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
Prior to joining Comcast Ventures, I was with Comcast Corporation for nearly six years. I focused on market structure analysis in broadband access to support government affairs, corporate M&A and competitive response teams.
Before joining Comcast in 2013, I worked in demographic analysis, macroeconomics and political campaigns. I led macroeconomics research and advocacy campaigns at the National Urban League in Washington DC, which is one of the oldest civil rights organisations.
Before then, I worked for a data analytics firm in Chicago where I helped clients target their services and public relations campaigns at a granular demographic level. I also worked as a field organiser in President Barack Obama’s first campaign in Chicago.
Prior to moving to the United States from Australia, I was a lawyer with a corporate law firm based out of Sydney, Australia. I focused on partnerships and M&A in the telecoms and tech sectors and worked with clients across the Asia-Pacific, including being placed inside client businesses for several years in Australia, Hong Kong and Thailand.
I hold a master’s degree from the University of Chicago focusing on quantitative analysis and a law degree and a bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics from the University of Sydney, Australia.
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