The Top 10: #10 Pratima Aiyagari, domain lead Europe, artificial intelligence, machine learning and enterprise collaboration acquisitions and investments, Cisco Investments

Pratima Aiyagari leads artificial intelligence, machine learning, enterprise collaboration, data centre and investments in Europe for Cisco Investments, the corporate venture capital (CVC) subsidiary of US-headquartered networking technology provider Cisco, having been with the organisation for eight years.

Aiyagari said: “Cisco Investments’ organisation is very unique – we are the corporate development, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and investments team. The ability to work with a world-class team like the Cisco corporate development team initially attracted me.

“However, it quickly became clear that the team is firing on all cylinders across the innovation and strategy frontier. What I find most exciting about a CVC role is that we are using investments as a tool to understand market transitions and technology trends and capture market transitions.”

She led Cisco Investments’ participation in Hungary-based autonomous vehicle startup AImotive’s $38m series C round in January 2018, which she considers to be her greatest success at the unit, adding: “Automotive sector is being disrupted and across the value chain we are seeing a huge shift – Cisco wants to be at the centre of this conversation as cars become more connected and transmit increasingly more data.”

Aiyagari said while evaluating an investment as a CVC, balancing the needs of the corporate versus the financial metrics for success is important because the market participants – other investors including institutional VCs and family offices – are also sometimes cautious of the corporate’s real reasons for investment in a startup which creates a tension.

She added: “CVCs need to be quite clear during evaluation and negotiation about long-term objectives. All corporates have a slightly different approach to investing. There are nuances to how and why they might be engaging in the activity of investing as a corporate…Each CVC does engage with the VC community to educate them individually. Perhaps it could also be done in forums to bring more participants together.”

Aiyagari also helped Cisco Investments back institutional VC vehicles including backing UK-based VC firm Notion Capital’s £107m ($140m) third fund, which achieved its final close in May 2017.

She sat on the boards of Ireland bandwidth estimation technology provider Corvil and advertising data intelligence business Adbrain, which Cisco Investments had backed in 2003 and 2016, respectively. The companies were each acquired by financial technology developer Pico in July 2019 and consumer advertising technology platform operator The Trade Desk in October 2017.

Prior to CVC, Aiyagari had been based in the US, first as a software engineer for Cisco from 2001 to 2007 then shifting to consulting in 2008. For the first six years, she had focused on network management applications for enterprise and small-medium business markets, while the final year was spent overseeing a policy-based email encryption engine.

Aiyagari holds a master of science in computer science from Virginia Tech and worked as a software developer in a prior career, before she went on to pursue an MBA at Insead and used that to pivot her career to finance, investing and M&A.