Q&A with Anil Achyuta, investment director, TDK Ventures

Nicolas Sauvage, managing director of TDK Ventures, Japan-headquartered electronics manufacturer’s corporate venture capital (CVC) unit, said of Anil Achyuta, an investment director for the fund: “In the short time of 15 months, Anil has closed five of the 10 deals we announced – Autoflight, Genetesis, Origin [acquired by Stratasys in December 2020], Exo and GenCell [went public in November 2020] – with very well-researched king-of-the-hill search in each of these very different spaces.

“Importantly, all portfolio companies have been very impressed and appreciative of his contribution in the context of our ‘TDK Goodness’, and Anil always goes the extra mile, and always share back strategic learnings wide and deep to our mothership TDK with high-quality self-contained units of learnings ‘TDK Ventures Briefings’.

“His due diligence skills were already good when he joined TDK Ventures yet with his ‘can-do’ and ‘always a student’ attitude, these skills have just deepened to a very high level as confirmed by multi-decades GPs we work with. Critically, he knows when to lead and when to be lead – an important sign of true leadership, and of a rising star – and all these combined will get him very far in our industry, and his ability to contribute to entrepreneurs and ultimately to society.”

Peeyush Shrivastava, chief executive of Genetesis, added: “Anil and TDK joined the Genetesis journey as series B investors, and despite covid and the now ubiquitous ‘virtual support’ that investors offer to entrepreneurs, Anil’s presence is always felt and insightful whether in the boardroom or in a brainstorming session. Anil is truly ‘smart money’ and has helped us think about some key business opportunities in a new and meaningful light. I strongly recommend him, both as an investor, and as a recipient for this award.”

Sajid Malhotra, chief strategy officer of Limelight Networks, said: “It is my privilege to nominate Anil for the Rising Star Award. In the short period of time I have known Anil, I have seen a full display of what I would consider requisite qualities. Anil is humble (not looking for credit and shares his contributions with others), confident (experienced and drives results), motivated (available across geographies and time zones), honest (in his criticism and assessment), passionate (in his beliefs, and desire to see the team succeed), and always team player. I have seen ample display of these qualities. More importantly, when applied properly, as he does, the outcomes improve team dynamics and lead to positive outcomes.

“Anil and I sit on the board of a Genetesis, a medical device startup. His presence is having a meaningful and positive impact, and the company leadership and Board are unanimous in their praise and recognition for his many contributions. I am delighted to write this recommendation.”

Jeffrey Lee, chief operating officer of Origin, said: “I am writing to recommend Anil for the GCV Rising Stars award this year. Anil learned about our company just a few months ago and I was impressed by how fast he was able to grasp the concept at depth and close the deal with Origin despite many obstacles. Most importantly, he understands the how to build honest and genuine relationships, which during my nine years in venture (Mission Ventures, most recently prior to Origin at DCM Ventures) I learned as one of the most critical parts of investing.

“Anil also has been at the forefront of bringing ‘TDK Goodness’ to Origin and has identified many non-obvious synergies with Origin. We are thrilled to have TDK Ventures as a part of our investor mix and this would not have happened without the vision and support of Anil.”

Sandeep Akkaraju, CEO Exo Imaging, said: “Anil recently led the diligence and participation by TDK Ventures into Exo’s series B-plus round. Exo is my fourth startups and we have raised roughly $100m to date. Needless to say, I have had to deal with a number of VCs.

“I have to say that Anil is a real standout in terms of other VCs that I have dealt with. A few of the reasons that I would recommend Anil for the Rising Star:

“He was instrumental in putting together TDK Ventures participation into Exo in record time. He runs a tight process, from initial conversation to getting corporate consensus (not an easy thing in a Japanese company) in three weeks.

“Anil is a real people connector and over the last few months has made truly important introductions and connections for Exo.

“He is always looking out for his portfolio companies. As a strategic investor, he is constantly thinking about how TDK and other affiliates can bring meaningful value to Exo. He has made important connections ranging from next-generation battery providers to manufacturing partners who can help us scale.

“He gets the bigger vision on the ongoing digital convergence in healthcare and is very strategic his thinking.

“Lastly, he is genuine, warm, interested and personable. Not characteristics often associated with the community.”

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 one of the founding members of TDK Ventures, a deeptech CVC fund in San Jose, California. TDK Ventures invests globally in early-stage startups that leverage fundamental material science to unlock an attractive and sustainable future for the world. TDK Ventures’ goal is to help every startup we invest to achieve their full potential for positive world impact.

At TDK Ventures, I am an investment director and lead our energy and healthcare practice. I have been with TDK Ventures for less than two years since its inception in July 2019. This is my first CVC role, but I have been in prior corporate external innovation roles, most recently as the head of L’Oréal’s Boston R&D innovation office.

2. What attracted you to CVC? 

I used to be an operator for most of my career and have always felt that I could not scale myself to invent more. I also have a very wide variety of interests due to my chemical engineering and biology background, so the best career choice for me utilised the full dynamic range of my abilities. Due to my technical acumen, I gravitated towards deeptech-focused funds, which are more appreciated on the corporate side. I also enjoy working alongside subject matter experts in corporates and help serve as a glue between the startup and the corporate. These factors led me to focus on deeptech funds on the corporate side. I chose TDK Ventures specifically because, first I was impressed by our founder Nicolas Sauvage on what he stood for. Second, I felt that TDK’s broad footprint in industrial, automotive, energy, and medical sector gave me a fertile ground to make investments in numerous explosive markets.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit? 

We invest mostly in four verticals at TDK Ventures: mobility, energy, healthtech and Industry 4.0.

My first investment was in an eVTOL company (Autoflight), which falls under the mobility category. My second and fourth investments were in magnetocardiography space (Genetesis) and point-of-care ultrasound space (Exo), which falls under the healthtech category. My third investment was in a 3D printing company (Origin), which falls under Industry 4.0 category, and my fifth investment was in an ammonia to hydrogen fuel cell company (GenCell), which falls under energy.

So, in a span of 15 months, I have reviewed a total of about 735 startups and have managed to cover all four verticals of TDK’s interest, while also being highly selective. But what I am even more proud of is the fact that each of our investment follows the United Nations sustainable development goals and could have a lasting positive effect on our society for an attractive sustainable future. This is something that I cherish most.

Another success point for me is the ability to be disciplined. I am proud of deciding not to invest a few times even after hundreds of hours of diligence, this is not an easy task as learning more about projects creates a sense of attachment.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

Time. 24 hours is simply not enough! I am a slow reader, so it takes me far longer than other people to learn new things. Given we cover an incredible breadth of topics in deeptech, my biggest challenge has been the fact that we see so many startups and yet have very little time to learn about their technology in depth.

I am also a social person and feed off others’ energy. Covid-19 has presented a unique opportunity for me to learn how to adapt to this new normal, but it has been very challenging not being able to meet startups, innovators, investors, and even close family physically.

I do not have any specific pain points to shed light on from our CVC other than simply not having enough time to go deep on all projects. So many of these projects are incredibly impactful and yet we do not have enough time or resources to deploy.

5. What is your main professional ambition for the future? 

From TDK Ventures’ point of view, my ambition is to be in the Top 5 CVCs of the world and maintain this lead for a decade, I strongly believe we can even be in the Top 3.

From a career standpoint, I am passionate about energy and healthcare sectors and believe these two areas form the pillars of modern society. My career ambition is to unequivocally demonstrate that I can invest in good and yet create strong financial returns.

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

I think all CVCs should appreciate a minor nuance in the word “strategic”. The word strategic is not a static measure, it is a dynamic and a time dependent variable. If executive management, investment committee at a CVC appreciated this nuance, then I believe CVCs could be far more successful in making a larger, longer term impact into their parent organisation.

7. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

I have worked in various organisations before TDK Ventures. L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and Draper in reverse chronological order. Prior to Draper, I got my PhD in chemical engineering from Northeastern University in Boston.

Regarding hobbies, I play cricket and an avid follower of the sport – I still hope two people nominate me for the MCC to play at Lords one day! I also play the guitar a bit, so occasionally, my wife and 13-month old son get a flavour of Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin.