The Top 25: #17 Rain Cui, JCI Ventures

Rain Cui, director of JCI Ventures, the corporate venturing unit of US-based Johnson Controls International, leads startup investments across various sectors including artificial intelligence and machine learning, unmanned machines, the internet of things (IoT), security and smart buildings technologies.

She sits on the board of Nevada Nanotech Systems, an IoT startup. This was an investment Cui worked on at Tyco Ventures in 2015 just after joining the corporate venturing unit and before parent company Tyco International merged with JCI in September 2016.

Recently, she led JCI’s investments in Carbon Lighthouse, Alcatraz AI, and Magos Systems, and is a board observer at the first two.

Cui reports to Robert Locke, senior vice-president for corporate development in building technologies at JCI, who covers corporate venture, mergers and acquisitions, and is an executive sponsor for several of JCI’s largest customers.

It might seem a long way from her formal studies. Cui used her biostatistics PhD from Harvard University and her MBA from its business school in the biopharmaceutical industry, including stints at GE Ventures Healthcare, Immuneering, Virgin Pulse and Trinity Partners. But the diversity of corporate venturing is part of the attraction for her.

Cui said: “Venture capital is an exciting industry that plays an integral part in building the companies of our future. Many of these companies will greatly impact and change existing industries, as well as our economy. The most valuable tech companies today would not exist without venture capital.

“It is a great privilege for me to work alongside entrepreneurs and help them build their companies. My role enables me to learn constantly, as I am always evaluating new ideas and technologies. I love the thrill of discovering transformative companies and closing great deals.”

However, she said CVCs could make their investment processes more transparent. “CVC units have their own distinct characteristics, investment criteria, and processes, and they can vary greatly from one to the next. For example, CVCs differ in whether they are strategic or financial investors, what their due diligence requirements are, what is required to get investment committee approval, and the timing required to close a deal. Startups often find working with CVCs can be like a black box, so it helps to provide clarity and transparency.”

As an adviser to US trade body the National Venture Capital Association’s corporate venture group from 2016 to 2018, Cui has pushed for greater transparency in the industry’s investment processes.