The rest of the 100 (in alphabetical order by company): Amir Fridman, Western Digital Capital
Amir Fridman manages Western Digital’s corporate venture capital (CVC) investments in Israel since its inception by SanDisk (now WD Capital (WDC)), in late 2012. His portfolio includes eight companies of which three already had exits.
Fridman spent 16 years at M-Systems in a variety of marketing, business development and strategy roles in Asia as well as Israel. The firm was acquired by SanDisk in 2006, which in turn was later acquired by Western Digital in 2016.
He started his career in corporate venturing in 2012, after seeking new career challenges at SanDisk Israel that could also contribute to SanDisk-Western Digital’s success. Fridman said: “Back then, I discovered that SanDisk was among very few multinational corporations with R&D presence in Israel that did not have a venture arm, and I founded its activity.”
Simply put, Fridman made things happen: “Setting up SanDisk Ventures Israel’s activity, collaborating with leading innovative startup teams to revolutionise SanDisk-Western Digital’s strategy and growth, partner well-established VC and CVC, and creating a well-known brand that is recognised today as the leading storage CVC in Israel, was an exciting time, as well as taking part of Israel transformation from startup nation to scale-up technology nation.”
Now under WDC’s banner, he is prioritising gradual change over radical shifts. He said: “In the past year and half, since the acquisition of Western Digital, I am growing and gradually changing our investments within the Israeli ecosystem every day, collaborating with smart, innovative entrepreneurs to reshape how data is stored and experienced worldwide.”
In March, WDC co-led Israel-based database development platform ScyllaDB’s $16m series B round, alongside Samsung, Qualcomm, and venture capital firm Magma Ventures.
In September, WDC led a $16m funding round for US-based cloud data management technology provider Elastifile.
These deals are adding to Fridman’s already strong track record: “I am very proud of all the deals I led, bringing new market trends, know-how, innovative technologies and expertise to Western digital business units, which will help to change the future of data and storage.
“Especially the deals that went on to successful exits, such as Pebbles Interfaces that was acquired by Facebook Oculus Rift, Altair Semiconductor acquired by Sony, and Ravello Systems that was acquired by Oracle, at a reported price between $400m to $450m.”
Fridman was a board observer at Ravello Systems, Altair Semiconductor, and Pebbles Interfaces, while he is a continuing board observer at Magisto (going on over four years), Stratoscale (over three years), Corephotonics (three years), Elastifile (two years), and most recently, ScyllaDB, where he has been observing the board for just over a year.
While business is relatively familiar, if not easy, in Israel, challenges arrive when working in new markets, especially when it involves coordinating with colleagues on a different continent. Fridman said: “Israeli storage startups are eager to partner a leading storage provider with local R&D presence, such as Western Digital.
“The challenge is always to identify startups and deals that can strategically scale Western Digital to new markets in which we do not play today, and requires me to maintain close relationship, dialogue and influence over the corporate and business units’ teams in our California HQ, which is sometime even more difficult to do so from Israel.”
Fridman would like to see CVC deals turn into more proactive, hands-on partnerships. He said: “One of the things corporate ventures can do better, is to leverage the investment deals, to create a well-established joint collaboration with the startups. On one hand, assisting the startup to take advantage of the corporate expertise and channels to scale their business and on the other hand to influence the startup’s technology, roadmap and go to market (GTM) from its early days, to the benefit of the corporate – creating a win-win for both sides.”
Before starting his professional career, Fridman had plenty of hands-on experience, so it is little surprise he sees this as a potential avenue to explore. He earned his MBA from Tel Aviv University and his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (Cum Laude) and Mathematics from Bar Ilan University, after serving in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) for four years as commanding officer of communication, electronics, and computers.
He now sees WDC’s growth as his next mission: “My main personal ambition for the future is to grow Western Digital Capital portfolio to new markets and geographies, such as China and India, and manage the team. The next level for me would be to become a managing partner of a large financial fund.”
Yet that is not the only challenge he wants to take on. Few CVC managers are ready to take on geo-politics, but Fridman does not shy away from it, spotting the role civil society can play in bringing long-term peace to the region.
He said: “Arab citizens make up just 1.5% of Israel’s high-tech workforce, a fraction of their 17.5% share of the country’s total labour force. According to a 2014 Paltrade report, Palestinian universities produce around 2,000 IT graduates annually. I see technology as a bridge to unite Arabs and Jews in Israel and incubator for West Bank Palestinian high tech entrepreneurs. As an Israeli and being part of the investment ecosystem in Israel, I hope, I can help creating a more diverse industry, which will lead to a more stable economy and help to bring peace with our neighbours.”