The Top 25: Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Ventures

Microsoft Ventures, the corporate venturing subsidiary of software producer Microsoft, was renamed M12 in April 2018 in a bid to set itself further apart from its parent’s accelerator initiative.

The new name – M for Microsoft, and 12 because “entrepreneur” is a 12-letter word – came two years after Microsoft restructured Microsoft Ventures from a global network of accelerators into a full-fledged corporate venture capital unit under Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice-president of Microsoft and global head of M12.

M12, which has already backed more than 60 startups mostly in North America and Israel over the past two years, has recently expanded its geographic scope to include India, an effort to be led by Rashmi Gopinath, a partner at the unit.

Its first India-based deal was announced in January this year, when the unit led a $35m series B round for healthcare data software producer Innovaccer. The company addresses data interoperability challenges in healthcare and has developed a data platform to improve clinical and financial outcomes.

Kashyap said in a statement at the time: “We are thrilled to broaden M12’s reach to include India, India is a market rich with entrepreneurs creating world-class startups that are poised for success on a global scale. In working with these innovative startups, we believe together we will help disrupt enterprises and industries ripe for digital transformation.”

After M12 added four companies to its portfolio by investing a total of $3.5m in the winners of Innovate.AI, its startup competition held in May last year, it teamed up with private equity firm EQT Ventures and lender SVB Financial Group to hold another competition in July aimed at female tech founders.

About 40% of M12’s investment team members are female, but only 7.5% of founders in its portfolio are women, according to Kashyap. He was quoted by CNet News in November as saying: “If we just play it safe and we just go back to our own networks, we will never solve this problem. There is no shortage of smart female entrepreneurs. We just have to look harder to find them.”

The Female Founders Competition awarded in December last year $2m each to two women-led startups – Canada-based manufacturing and automotive-focused machine learning technology developer Acerta Analytics Solutions and US-based 2D and 3D-fusing graphic design software developer Mental Canvas.

Kashyap, who has been involved in venture capital, software engineering, business development and management for more than two decades, is an active mentor and thought-leader in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

He became a four-year board member of US trade body the National Venture Capital Association in early April, and he was chosen to be a speaker at a technology investor event Engage Invest Exploit (EIE) in Edinburgh later in the month.

He told Scotsman in March: “Speaking at events like EIE helps to show companies how corporate venture capital can be a source of funding to support them on their journey.

“There will be 50 ambitious companies pitching on the day and the advice I give to founders is to be clear on the business problem you are solving and the team you have put together to achieve it.”

Prior to joining M12, Kashyap had been at semiconductor technology producer Qualcomm from 1989 to 2014. He joined Qualcomm’s corporate venturing arm Qualcomm Ventures in 2003, where he oversaw the North America ventures team until 2007 when he was appointed head of global venturing. During his tenure, he netted multiple $1bn exits, including Waze, NetQin and InvenSense, and with plenty of others in the portfolio, such as China-based phone maker Xiaomi, that have exited or could do since his departure.

He grew the Qualcomm Ventures portfolio to more than 150 investments in 2015 from 10 in 2003 and established a well-regarded early-stage competition, QPrize, which rewards entrepreneurs around the world with prize money.

Kashyap began his career as a software engineer at Nortel, Motorola and 3Com/US Robotics before moving to management consulting firm PRTM, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Interviewed by GCV in 2016, he said: “I started my career as a software engineer, and I am still a sort of recovering software engineer at this point, but I have moved on to a business role at previous companies.”