Orange Silicon Valley convened its Corporate Venture Innovation Summit on June 14, continuing a 3-year-long conversation about the ongoing changes in corporate venture capital activity, innovation, and participation in bringing new technologies to market. Building on previous summits, this year’s June event delved deeper into quantum computing and robotics activity, while pooling experiences and insights from a respected lineup of business leaders and technology experts.
“The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today,” said GE Ventures President Marianne Wu, who keynoted the beginning of the day. Wu spoke about changing paradigms across industries right now that have informed her own perspectives. She specifically cited shifts from centralized to decentralized, capex to opex, and product/feature-driven to service/experience-driven aspirations, among others.
“We are strategic and financial,” Wu explained, characterizing the investment motivations at GE Ventures, where areas of interest in include the energy landscape, healthcare and life sciences, and manufacturing and supply chain.
Her talk was followed by a sitdown interview with Crunchbase Head of Content Gené Teare, who asked Wu about her decision-making process and challenges that CVCs face when they invest. Wu stated that “you have to be trusted and respectful as a venture capitalist” with the ability to “sustain good will” among portfolio companies. She recommended avoiding scenarios that can result in startups getting hurt by accident as a result of CVC intentions not aligning with those of startups.
Wu was also blunt about the difficulties faced by startups in the spaces where GE invests, including clean tech, where she acknowledged many investments from around the VC world came “too early,” resulting in significant reluctance today. “These are hard industries,” Wu said. “There’s a reason it’s not like ‘Candy Crush.'”
Still, she praised GE’s perspective, and said the company is proud of its heritage that resulted from inventor Thomas Edison’s work and provides a source of inspiration for its innovation priorities now.
Wu was followed onstage by Gradient Ventures Founding Partner Ankit Jain, who offered a window into his fund, established by Google as a means of providing capital and resources to AI-focused startups. Google piloted a unique approach for its engineers, encouraging them to take yearlong sabbaticals to pursue side projects, and Gradient Ventures helps make some of those projects possible, all the while enabling Google employees to refresh their skill and experience sets before returning to work.
Also speaking during the morning session was Wirewheel CEO Justin Antonipillai, who served previously as the Obama administration’s acting under secretary for economic affairs at the US Department of Commerce. His company, which provides data-security tools, serves what he characterized as a growing problem for companies doing business across international borders.
Antonipillai encouraged audience members to think of “privacy as a significant trade issue” that is only beginning to enter the spotlight now that companies have begun implementing compliance plans for Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). “GDPR is just the first” in a series of compliance and regulatory issues that will arise, he explained, particularly for strategic investors who will need to be aware of who owns the data and where that data is being stores for the startups in which they invest.
How data is accessed and used is often overlooked, according to Mahendra Ramsinghani, the managing director at Secure Octane. Ramsinghani spoke about cybersecurity concerns, noting that 85% of chief security officers don’t know what’s connecting to their networks. Cybersecurity is a complex arena for companies with large amounts of user data.
The “cost to attack is going down, and the cost defend is going up,” said Jeff Karras, the managing director of US investments at Singtel Innov8. That trend has helped spark innovation from startups, as well as traditional players, translating into opportunities for CVCs.
David J. Blumberg, the founder and managing partner at Blumberg Capital, said that he has seen the landscape explode as larger companies buy startups to fill gaps in their suites of offerings.
Quantum computing and robotics
The day closed with looks at quantum computing and robotics. The end of the day featured experts in evolving fields of quantum computing and robotics.
“We want as many quantum developers in the world as possible to use [IBM’s] quantum computers,” explained Joseph Raffa, a partner at IBM Ventures who spoke on the topic. He shared that IBM currently has 85,000 developers working with its quantum processors and part of his role now involves seeking out promising startups that can grow that number.
— Peter Mullen (@pemullen) June 14, 2018
During the panel discussion that followed, Davide Venturelli, a research scientist with the USRA/RIACS Quantum AI Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center, said there’s much to be done before quantum computing’s utilities can break through beyond niche use cases. Asked about its potential for machine learning, he suggested that current measurements for the effectiveness of machine learning are somewhat arbitrary and the impact of quantum computing on what’s possible in the field has yet to be realized.
Raffa proposed that there might be a near-term horizon in 2-3 year, however, where quantum computing might disrupt work in material sciences by enabling full simulations of molecules. He added that IBM has additional interests in the technology for intuitional computing applications where high-dimensionality classification of data is involved.
The event concluded with talks from Stanford Robotics Lab Director Ousama Khatib, SoftBank Robotics America Chief Strategy Officer Steve Carlin, Mithril Capital Management Investor Amit Mulgaonkar, and InnovationLab’s Mark Bünger. Khatib gave an overview of the principles and frameworks that have informed his work. As a group, the panel looked at who is interested in robotics and why, predicting significant contributions ahead as companies figure out how to integrate robotics with traditional workforces.
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