26 – 100 in alphabetical order: George Kellerman, Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley

In January this year, Hiroshi Saijou, CEO and managing director of Japan-based small-vehicle producer Yamaha Motor’s corporate venturing arm, Yamaha Motor Ventures & Lab in Silicon Valley (YMVSV), moved positions to chairman.

Saijou, a founder of YMVSV who featured on Global Corporate Venturing’s 2016 and 2018 Powerlists, also became general manager of new business development at Yamaha Motor. George Kellerman, formerly chief operating officer and general partner at YMVSV, took on Saijou’s previous roles.

Kellerman told GCV at the time: “We launched a new $100m fund – the Yamaha Motor Exploratory Fund – and moved to a larger office with a garage and workshop space two months [earlier], so we are definitely growing and expanding our influence within Yamaha Motor. We are putting an increased emphasis on investing and we are going to be opening two to four international branch offices over the next year or two.”

The company said the fund would “further strengthen its global corporate venturing activities”.

Regarding Saijou’s new position, Kellerman added: “Hiro is actually moving to Yamaha Motor USA to become general manager of new business development, which will become the internal organisation to which YMVSV can hand off startups and projects. Without someone to receive those startups or projects, they will just die on the vine, so Hiro is building phase two of our global corporate venturing activities.”

The unit expanded beyond Silicon Valley last summer. Craig Boshier joined YMVSV in July 2018 as an Australia-based general manager with a focus on medtech. Boshier told GCV at the time that his priority was to cover the country as well as nearby markets such as New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

The Australia-based unit would target investments in agritech, and Boshier cited the sector’s importance for Australia’s economy as a key factor. It also intended to explore investments in medical, transport and construction technology.

The Silicon Valley-based core unit of YMVSV has a portfolio that includes agricultural robotics developer Abundant Robotics, drone technology provider PrecisionHawk and vehicle-focused wifi internet system developer Veniam.

YMVSV has two internal projects – Motobot, a humanoid robot that can ride an unmodified motorcycle autonomously, and VasP (vehicle as probe), an internet-of-things visualisation of microenvironmental information. While such projects are focused on vehicles, Yamaha Motor’s background of disruptive shifts – it started out as a musical instruments maker of keyboards – means its tagline is “exploring new Yamaha as value creator for the world”, according to Saijou.

Saijou said for his profile in 2016 its other achievement and highlights were establishing YMVSV in California, with a “great team” and direct reporting to Yamaha Motor’s top management. This team includes George Kellerman and Amish Parashar, and Saijou is expecting to increase its size after the departure of Jay Onda to Orange.

YMVSV’s investments last year included a $12m series A round for US-based robotics maker Roam. Founded in 2013, Roam Robotics is building a robotic external skeleton called Elevate, which would help people ski, walk and run by strengthening the leg muscles, improving stability and reducing muscle fatigue and joint pressure.

Quoting Yamaha Motor’s founder, Saijou said: “Action is the best way to learn, so let us explore rather than research. In the business world today, so many people are obsessed with figures. They become fixated on the numbers of the minute and without them are too afraid to do any real work. But in fact, every situation is in flux from moment to moment, developing with a natural flow. Unless one reads that flow, it is impossible to start out in a new field of business.”