The rest of the 100 (in alphabetical order by company): Jim Adler, Toyota

Jim Adler, vice-president of the Toyota Research Institute and managing director of the Japan-based car maker’s Toyota AI Ventures, is a modest man.

While reticent of reiving the GCV Rising Stars award, having “just launched the fund in July,” it belied an impressive execution on the program through its initial deals and hiring.

Last month, Jill Ford, head of innovation and entrepreneurship for the US city of Detroit, joined Toyota AI Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based corporate venturing subsidiary of Toyota, as it struck its fifth deal.

Ford is a principal to source new investment opportunities and also work with the firm’s existing portfolio companies for the $100m AI fund, which is part of Toyota Research Institute (TRI).

Toyota AI Ventures focuses on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, autonomous mobility, data, and cloud technology. These are attempts to find way for the car maker to go “inwards” to find new technologies and business models that might impact its performance over time (referred to as an S-curve).

In an insightful blog posted when the AI fund was launched, Adler said: “One way to make the jump to a new S-curve is by being humble enough to align with the insurgents through partnerships, investments, and acquisitions.

“These strategies, while far from easy, are critical to making the jump. High-tech companies, like Cisco and Intel, have been running parallel experiments through their startup investments for decades, acquiring the winners, and jumping to the next disruptive S-curve. Now automotive leaders, like Toyota, are recognising that they may need to do the same to compete against new high-tech insurgents.”

The fund’s most recent deal was Connected Signals, a US-based connected vehicle data analytics startup. In a regulatory filing in August, Connected said it was raising $2.5m and had closed on $1.5m.

Previous ones for the fund have been a $2m round for Realtime Robotics, Intuition Robotics, Nauto, and Slamcore.

On Ford’s hiring, Adler said: “We are thrilled to have Jill join the Toyota AI Ventures team. She has an eye for talent and a strong understanding of what it takes to win that’s rooted in her diverse experience as an investor, business executive and innovator.”

Adler had joined TRI in May 2016 having previously been at software provider Microsoft following its acquisition of Metanautix, where he had led products and marketing. Metanautix was a big data analytics startup funded by Sequoia Capital and Workday.

And this route has been how Adler has found other roles. Before Metanautix, he was the first VP of data systems and chief privacy officer at Intelius, which was acquired by HIG Capital.

Adler said: “During my nearly five years at Intelius, the company spun out the employment screening business, Talentwise, which was acquired by Sterling Talent Solutions.”

He added: “I came to Intelius through acquisition of the identity theft business that grew out of VoteHere, a pioneer in cryptographic secure and secret online voting for public elections, where I was founder and CEO.

“VoteHere raised over $25m in venture capital including strategic investments from Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Entrust.”

But Adler, whose first car was a” slightly-used Corona, paid solely by my wages as a Miami busboy” has found a home at Toyota.

He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with high honors from University of Florida and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from University of California, San Diego.