Q&A with Gregory Aaron Hoffman, DuPont Electronics & Imaging 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.
Currently, I am leading the Ventures program for DuPont’s Electronics and Imaging business. I have been doing so since March 2020. Prior to that date, I was a junior member of DuPont Ventures, which was led by Frank Klemens and Maureen “Moe” Rinkunas but was shut down, as covered by GCV in this article.
The driver behind the March 2020 restructuring was significant pre-planned cost reductions at the corporate centre, of which DuPont Ventures was a part, and a pivot to further embed capabilities in business units. I was fortunate to be chosen to lead this transition on behalf of our Electronics and Imaging business. All of this while the covid-19 crisis was raging.
In directing the transition, I developed a new ventures process that better aligned with the business unit’s strategy and growth horizons. I built a new coalition of stakeholders across the business unit to define product gaps, build, buy and partner options, and target selection criteria across 22 discrete technology swim lanes and four innovation platforms. We developed new processes for vetting opportunities and executing agreements with greater throughput and purpose.
We have accomplished this with great support from business leadership along with many others across the organization and built upon the foundation previously set by DuPont Ventures.
2. What attracted you to CVC?
I find the potential synergy from pairing corporations with startups to be tantalizing. There is that well-known Marc Andreesen piece “Why Software’s Eating the World,” and every corporate is threatened by some new entrant. Additionally, many older companies have not really had to innovate around their core business model, and there is the whole notion of “not-invented-here syndrome” that hinders external innovation efforts as well.
There is so much that CVC can offer startups that alternative partners cannot, and vice versa. I believe that by working together, startups and corporates can build something far better than either could do on their own.
3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
Well, in October our business unit announced an exclusive development agreement, coupled with a corresponding investment, into Azul 3D. That is something that everyone in our business is proud of, particularly in the macroeconomic climate we continue to be in. I think people were very pleasantly surprised that the deal was ultimately executed. And that is just a harbinger of things to come. Since launching DuPont Electronics and Imaging Ventures, we have built a really strong pipeline of opportunities de novo, with great intention behind our desired outcomes for each. I am confident that we will continue to unlock new sources of long-term growth through investment, partnership, & collaboration with early-stage companies, and that we will have leadership’s support to do so.
4. What have been your biggest challenges?
Certainly re-launching a ventures unit amidst corporate cost-cutting and the (unrelated) COVID-19 pandemic was no easy task. We are resource-constrained and that has forced us to make some difficult choices on which external partners to work with. But I have to give our leadership a lot of credit for keeping innovation a priority and recognizing that external innovation—including engagement with the startup ecosystem— is a key source of growth for our business unit. We have extraordinary internal alignment, and that has enabled our fledgeling ventures programme to thrive in this challenging environment.
5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?
I would like to continue working at the intersection of corporates and startups as I find it to be such a fun space to work in. For me, it is very important that my work has real-world impact for the greater good of humanity. I have gotten that at DuPont, where our materials and solutions make so many great world-changing things possible, at a fundamental level. I hope to continue to feel that sense of purpose moving forward throughout my career.
6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
It is no secret that aligning CVC interests with startup opportunities is a fundamental challenge we all face. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and all CVCs want to be connected to the ones that matter to them. But I feel that the current engagement model with intermediaries tends to lead to a lot of wasted spend. I would like to see CVCs come together and shift the power dynamic away from third parties charging six figures for access for a small segment of the ecosystem and above and instead create an open, crowdsourced, and collaborative industry-wide platform.
7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?
Certainly, amidst the pandemic, we have taken a close look at the “new normal” behaviours and tried to determine which will persist and what opportunities they will create. The pandemic has certainly led us to take a closer look at advanced contactless and touchless technologies, XR technologies (AR/VR/MR), environmental modelling, and connected healthcare, among other interest areas. I would say the key challenge is to determine which “new normal” behaviours will persist, and which ones will not.
8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
Prior to CVC, I worked in corporate innovation across a few different industries – homebuilding with Lennar, travel retail with Duty Free America. I also had a startup that sought to help non-profits raise money and companies boost brand awareness via online raffles and have done a lot of digital consulting for political campaigns. I live in Oakland, California with my beautiful wife Talia and am pursuing a master of science in finance at Georgetown University. I enjoy going on long walks, hiking and reading.
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