Q&A with Derek Idemoto, SVP of corporate development and Cisco Investments

As senior vice-president of corporate development and Cisco Investments, the corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of networking technology producer Cisco, Derek Idemoto is responsible for optimising external innovation through acquisitions and investments as a mechanism for Cisco’s growth.

1. Any highlights from the past year?

  • Corporate acquisitions of portfolio or venture-backed companies: Duo (2018), Voicea and CloudCherry (2019)
  • Business unit partnerships and development with portfolio companies: Addition of Cohesity to Cisco GPL to enable customers to consolidate secondary data silos on Cisco UCS.
  • Team expansion and recent promotions: We have tripled the size of our Portfolio Development team in the past year with several new team members across market development, sales enablement, relationship management and marketing, events and communications.

2. What are the plans for the year 2020?

Cisco has a solid reputation as a prolific corporate investor and acquirer. We are a company that values and embraces tech outside of our walls. Our goal and strategy for the year ahead are to continue to deepen our engagement within the start-up ecosystem, champion our portfolio companies, and bolster our technology portfolio to the benefit of our customers. Moreover, we will continue to consistently apply our highest standard to every acquisition and investment that we do.

3. Could you mention some milestones achieved at your unit so far?

We recently celebrated our 216th acquisition since Cisco’s inception as an enterprise leader. We have over 120 disruptive start-up companies in our portfolio, along with 45 limited partner (LP) positions in 47 countries. We are a foundational LP in Decibel, the first independent early-stage VC implemented by a major technology company, which Cisco announced last year. We have a significant LP position in Digital Alpha, where we are looking at smart cities, IoT, and large-scale data centre solutions aimed at building in-country, sovereign cloud environments. These are just a few of the achievements I am proud that our corporate development and Cisco Investments team has accomplished.

4. Please mention some pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing.

The pain point and opportunity are sometimes one and the same – the balance of doing deals that are good for the business while also being a stretch for the business. Doing deals that only the business unit wants to do negates new challenges and possibilities for overall company growth. At the same time, it is crucial to maintain close ties with the BUs in accordance with the current strategy and capabilities. Taking a holistic market view and staying true to your principles makes the difference in establishing equilibrium in corporate venturing. This has consistently been our approach for decades, due to Cisco’s company culture of valuing external innovation and our holistic approach within the corporate development team of balancing both mergers and acquisitions and venture.

5. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

I think all CVCs play a role in fostering diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity. These are important factors shaping the entire start-up ecosystem, both now and in the future. Having a field of diverse backgrounds, thoughts and ideas help to accelerate and spur innovation. Investing in smaller funds and supporting individuals with diverse networks would go a long way in helping evolve the entire technology industry for the better. Cisco made a number of diversity investments in the past year, including aCrew and Plexo Captial. We want to be recognized not just as an enterprise IT leader, but a champion for investment opportunities for start-ups founded by women and minorities.

6. For colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

I love the deal business and have spent my entire career in corporate venture. It is really exciting what we do – connecting in with the startup world to look for market disruptions and transitions, then figure out how these could fit and shape Cisco into the company we want to become. Outside of work I am a huge sports fan and memorabilia collector. My teams are the San Francisco 49ers, the Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants and Cal Bears – you will often find me watching whichever sporting event is on at the moment.