Justin Merle, investor, Zebra Ventures, is one of our 50 rising stars in corporate venturing in 2023.

Justin Merle started his career at professional services firm EY, working with companies on strategy and transactions, but he was interested in the corporate development side, and joined Zebra Ventures two years ago to work alongside long-time CVC industry veteran Tony Palcheck.

Palcheck and Merle form a tight, two-person investment team for Zebra Technologies, the US-based company that provides technology for a broad range of sectors from retail and warehousing to healthcare and manufacturing.

Zebra Ventures recently made six investments in robotics startups, including companies providing warehouse automation, autonomous forklifts and software for robotic picking arms. One of the most recent robotics deals was backing the $66m series C funding round for Boston-based Righthand Robotics, an autonomous picking robot.

Merle says robotics and supply chain automation will continue to be a focus for Zebra Ventures.

“We’re still spending time on software to orchestrate different robots. Another space is looking at areas like frictionless checkout, and using computer vision and AI in the retail store,” he says.

In the two years he has been with Zebra Ventures, Merle been involved in 17 investments. As a certified public accountant, he likes to bring systematic financial due diligence to investing which he learned in his former consulting role.

“It is important to be talking to as many people as possible from entrepreneurs to VCs.”

“One big thing for me is crosschecking companies’ assumptions with what I have learned from VCs and other startups in the market,” he says. One of the most essential parts of being a successful investor, therefore, is building a wide net of contacts, he says.

“It is important to be talking to as many people as possible from entrepreneurs to VCs.” Merle also attends as many conferences as he can to build his network. Merle says he is lucky to have a good mentor in Palcheck, saying that CVC is a “big mentorship industry” and a skill that you learn more as an apprentice than on any business school course.

Having said that, he does have a few book recommendations for anyone who is starting out. Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor, Masters of Corporate Venture Capital by Andrew Romans and Transformative Innovation by Christine Gulbranson are ones that he found particularly useful.

See the rest of our Top 50 Rising Stars for 2023 here.

Maija Palmer

Maija Palmer is editor of Global Venturing and puts together the weekly email newsletter (sign up here for free).