Shelly Rao, principal, Juniper Networks, is one of our 50 rising stars in corporate venturing in 2023.

Shelly Rao, principal at Juniper Networks, came into corporate venture — as many of the best investors do — after working at a startup.

“I was a space nerd when I was younger, I loved astronomy and followed what Elon Musk was doing,” says Rao. After she had been working in investment banking for seven years an opportunity came to join fledgling satellite communications company Kepler. She felt the stars had aligned. As director of finance, Rao helped build Kepler from a startup with less than 20 employees, to one that had more than 150.

The familiarity she had built with the emerging telecoms sector made moving to Juniper Networks’ venture team a natural next move. Having been a founder, Rao says, helps her connect with the startups in the portfolio.

“I can empathise better with founders having been in their position, and as a former operator I can be more hands on.” The Juniper team only takes board observer roles at portfolio companies but still gets very involved.

“I can empathise better with founders having been in their position, and as a former operator I can be more hands on.”

Rao and Patrick Pfeffer, head of growth strategy and venture investments, are a two-person department at Juniper Ventures, so Rao has had to learn the ropes fast in her first year at the company. “I was definitely out of my comfort zone when I went to my first investment committee just four months into the role. But to get a unanimous yes to the investment was a great feeling,” she says.

Being new to venture investing, she says, helps her bring a new perspective to counterbalance the veteran experience of Pfeffer, who has been at Juniper for 14 years. One of the frustrating parts of the job — to someone who comes from the fast-paced world of investment banking and startups — is how long it can take to get deals and strategic collaborations done.

“This is a very long game. You have to set your expectations to that,” she says. At the same time, she says, it is worth remembering that there’s a certain creativity needed to be a good corporate investor.

“You have to be very nimble and open-minded,” she says.

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).