26 – 100 in alphabetical order by company: Tony Cannestra, director of corporate ventures, Denso International America

Tony Cannestra has been a director of corporate ventures at car parts maker Denso International America since 2014, where he leads its strategic investing efforts. He set up an investing strategy for the Japan-headquartered corporate by establishing an extensive network of universities, entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, angel investor groups and venture capital funds.

The unit invests in early-stage startups that are compatible with Denso’s strategic growth plan through equity investments and non-equity funding, as well as mergers and acquisitions. The investees typically develop advanced robotics, mobility, manufacturing and internet-of-things technologies.

“Our goal at Denso is to create products and technologies that enhance mobility and meet our partners’ needs, helping them deliver seamless and user-friendly experiences to their customers,” said Cannestra in a statement in November 2020 when the corporate invested in Germany-based wireless positioning technology developer Lambda:4.

“We are pleased to forge ahead with this investment not only despite the coronavirus pandemic but because it will help us develop safer transportation solutions during it. We continue to focus on new mobility areas and potential partners, particularly in connectivity and autonomy, who can help us address transportation needs of today and beyond.”

In an interview for GCV’s mobility sector report, Cannestra said: “The startups are typically of strategic interest to Denso in three areas – connectivity, autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity. We invest in the stages from seed to series B.

“Most of the opportunities we look at are mission-critical to the automobile. Because of the importance of those systems, we tend to take a longer-term perspective on when those technologies can be implemented in an automobile. You cannot do what we do in a one or two-year window. And we are investing for strategic rather than financial returns.

“We invest off the balance sheet. This means that we are not limited by the number of investments we can make annually, and it keeps everyone engaged at the R&D level and the upper management level since they have to be informed and sign off on every investment.

“In my previous work in venturing, I observed that corporate venturing is not successful unless you really add value to the whole ecosystem. So when I helped create the Denso CVC group in Silicon Valley several years ago, we made a conscious decision to support entrepreneurs at the earliest stages, to work with other venture funds as a limited partner (LP) and as a co-investor, as well as leading direct investments.”

Before taking up the role at Denso, Cannestra had spent five years as managing partner of VC firm Strategic Venture Partners, where he focused on corporate investors as LPs. Before that, he was a principal and later an executive vice-president of fund manager Ignite and a board member of energy storage company Cymbet Corporation.