Please share a bit about your training and professional background.
I grew up in Bangalore in Southern India and received my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Trichy. At the time of graduating, many multinational corporations were just starting to set up branches in India, including Texas Instruments (TI), where I had the opportunity to join their new design center in Bangalore. I worked at TI for 15+ years, working in analog and mixed signal design, before relocating to Dallas, Texas to lead their global WLAN engineering team.
Following that, along with four colleagues from TI, I founded Cosmic Circuits, where we developed, licensed and marketed differentiated analog and mixed signal semiconductor IP cores for use on systems-on-chips. Cosmic Circuits was a leader in analog IP, with hundreds of millions of integrated circuits using our IP before we were acquired by Cadence.
I was very intrigued about moving into the venture funding space after my experiences in corporate and startup. Celesta was an intriguing option to me since the Founding Managing Partners were all very accomplished in the deep tech space, having built and scaled large, important companies. I joined Celesta as a Partner in 2015 with a special focus on looking at deep technology companies within India.
Is there a professional achievement you’re most proud of to date?
I am very proud of the work our team did at Cosmic Circuits, building one of the first successful Indian semiconductor IP companies within a challenging environment. India was known primarily for software services in the early 2000s. There were not many IP- or product-focused companies, and there was very little venture capital available for product companies in India at the time. In seven years’ time, Cosmic Circuits grew into a global leader in semiconductor IP, with 500+ intellectual property cores and earning AMS IP Partner award twice by TSMC.
Many of the lessons learned during that experience help me to effectively advise the founders and startups I work with today at Celesta.
I feel extremely fortunate to partner with young founders who have bold, audacious dreams to build great companies within India – and to also be able to support them to make it happen.
What does your role as an Investment Partner with Celesta entail?
As a partner in Celesta, I am fortunate to work with exciting technology startups throughout India, Israel, Japan, and the U.S. Every day I have the pleasure of meeting and engaging with energetic and passionate founders. The deep tech ecosystem that Celesta focuses on is flourishing within India and growing at an astonishing pace. Compared to other more mature markets such as the U.S. or Israel, the Indian deep tech ecosystem is still relatively young. I feel extremely fortunate to partner with young founders who have bold, audacious dreams to build great companies within India – and to also be able to support them to make it happen.
Many Indian deep tech startups are run by young entrepreneurs and some of the companies may not be investment-ready for Celesta. Celesta offers flexibility to partners to work with startups for long periods of time and help the company to mature and build readiness for scale-up investment. These engagements can last up to12 to 18 months before the potential funding.
What notable trends are you seeing in the Indian VC investment landscape right now?
India has matured into a top three startup ecosystem globally, celebrating its 100th unicorn in May 2022. Indian technology institutes have established large research parks and a significant amount of diverse R&D work is happening across various technology sectors.
Previously, India was somewhat lacking in deep tech investors, but we are slowly seeing a growing concentration of deep tech early-stage investors. I believe India will be the home of many groundbreaking deep tech companies in the coming decade and the VC ecosystem is equipping itself to help fund these companies to scale.
The Indian government recently held a large conference on semiconductors and announced a $10B USD investment to help further develop the ecosystem within India. One of the important focus areas is the development of fabless startups. India has a very strong talent base in semiconductors, and I expect to see world-class semiconductor startups in the coming years. India also has an experienced ecosystem for space technologies. In the coming decade, I expect to see growth in innovative areas such as satellites with unique payloads, rocket development, and satellite communication technology. Additional sectors to watch within India include EVs, green hydrogen, drug discovery, and genomics.
India is still known for the relative efficiency of its engineering costs. This combination of affordable engineering, coupled with strong deep tech talent and the availability of venture capital, will help Indian entrepreneurs to aggressively build globally competitive companies. Both the central and state governments are in constant touch with venture funds such as Celesta to collaborate and spur further growth of the startup ecosystem. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this space.
How is Celesta’s investment approach unique compared to other leading India funds?
Our investment partner team at Celesta brings a wealth of experience to our partnership with founders and early-stage companies, having served both as entrepreneurs and having run large organizations. This is a unique approach with Celesta: we work closely with startup founders as an extension of the founding team. When this happens effectively, the synergies unlocked can be exceptional. Most deep tech startups in India are run by young professionals and recent graduates and seasoned VC investors can add a great deal of value by sharing their experience to help guide the company’s journey.
Secondly, our Indian portfolio companies get access to world-class advisory and resources through our global network of partners. As an example, my partners in the U.S. serve alongside me as Board Directors of India-based companies, which helps us in maintaining a global perspective. Almost all deep tech companies aspire for global market reach, so it is important to have a global view and Celesta is strong in this arena.
Lastly, I would say what sets Celesta apart is that when we make investments, we do so for the long run. This commitment to long-term shared success allows us to stick with and support a company even when it goes through a period of challenges. Rather than cutting ties with a struggling portfolio company, this is often when we dig in even further and help to co-create strategies to turn things around.
You partner closely with several Celesta portfolio companies – what does that role look like for you?
I have two primary aspects to my role. The first is evaluating potential investments, examining companies, and working with them closely to see if they might align with our investment thesis at Celesta. These engagements can often last for two to three months involving multiple visits and extensive due diligence before we develop conviction to back a company.
If we choose to invest, my role then transitions to working with our portfolio companies on an ongoing basis to help strengthen their business and team. This can include:
- Identifying talent to join the team
- Validating product, go-to-market, or operations plans
- Technology reviews
- Engaging with other board members to create an efficient and complimentary board
- Helping the company to identify and gain traction with additional investors
As an example, I serve as Executive Board Chairman for Ideaforge, supporting the founding team with talent addition, strategy, and fundraising. I also function as a Board Director at Kyulux, largely helping the executive team with company strategy, fundraising, and more.
What is one piece of advice you would give to founders?
Many of the companies we partner with at Celesta are working to develop novel intellectual property which, once proven, is expected to have a huge impact in the market. These kinds of bold ideas are unproven paths, offering inevitable challenges and the need for a great deal of resilience. In doing this work, I often think of this quote from famous author Warren Bennis:
“Innovation, by definition, will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires ‘courageous patience.” - Warren Bennis
My advice to all those endeavoring to create game-changing technology is to have courageous patience.