Sriram Viswanathan has more than 30 years of technology business operations and venture capital experience. Prior to Celesta, Sriram was the founder of IndusAge Partners, a cross border venture firm investing in innovative companies in the US-India Technology corridor. Sriram spent nearly 20 years at Intel Corporation in various senior management roles, including vice president of the Intel Architecture Group (IAG), vice president of Intel Capital and general manager of Intel’s Incubation and Innovation Group.
"As a firm, our commitment is always to the founder and management team more than any other constituents. We are committed for the long term, and will always bet on a passionate entrepreneur shooting for the stars than a great sounding business with a sub optimal team. We see ourselves as an extension of the team and always want to be additive to the mission."
Can you give us a sense of how and why you all started Celesta?
I never knew that what I was getting into was called venture capital. In the '90s. I just loved seeing what is beyond the curve, up ahead in the road. I always was curious about innovation and new technology. My curiosity for technology is really the ascending trait, if you will, more than deal making. Now, it turned out over the period of 10, 15 years, it really matured and I had actually left Intel after 20 years, to start my own fund, which is called IndusAge. That fund effectively became in a combination with another fund to become what it is today called Celesta. That's how we ended up in deep tech.
Some of the other partners that are with me are veterans and pioneers in their own merit in manufacturing, in semiconductors, in supply chain and those areas. We all came together and we formed Celesta as a combination of all our individual passion, if you will. When we came together several years later in the 2016 timeframe, it was really a result of our combined commitment to deep tech and the commitment to the opportunity that exists in the US-India corridor that made us want to double down and build a firm for it. That's Celesta's core thesis, which is to do deep tech, which is to really look at the India-US corridor as the place to be.
Can you explain the Celesta model, both globally and in India? Do you invest from a global fund, what stage do you like to invest, and what are some of the markets that you're focused on historically?
I think we're known as early stage investors, and by definition, we're sort of involved in Series A, Series B. There are some number of seed investments that we have gotten involved in, but primarily you would categorize us as Series A, Series B, typical checks that we write, are between $5 and 10 million in a company to start with, and we might go up from there for follow-ons and such. But typically I would say it's sub $20 million into a company is what we normally invest in.
We like to lead deals and we think of ourselves as operating execs. We all have run multibillion-dollar businesses in our respective careers, and we have been operators that have had an incredible exposure to investing in businesses with our own money or with balance sheets from the likes of Intel or Flextronics or other companies. As a consequence, we think we can actually add a lot of value to the companies that we engage in. In the early stage, where our expertise of running large businesses, working with large teams across different geographies, looking at large markets in multiple geographies, making those connections for the companies that we invest in, that's really what we bring to the table.
Historically, we've invested in US obviously, which is our mainstay in Silicon Valley. We've invested obviously in India quite a bit. We also have quite a rich portfolio in Israel, which is one of the areas that we have had a long history investing in. Opportunistically, we've invested in Japan and Korea and some in China. But increasingly, our focus moving forward, I almost would say predominantly it'll be in the US-India corridor. There was a time 10-15 years ago, if you were in technology, you had no chance of becoming a global company, if you ignored China. As a market, as a potential source of other competing firms coming in, and all of that. Today, that equation has completely changed. Today you cannot build a global, technology-oriented firm or firm that wants to become global without taking India into this equation. Which is why our focus is primarily on this US-India corridor. That gives you a sense for how we think about the world.
You all bring a lot of experience as operators, so how deeply do you get involved with the founders that you invest in?
I think it's a fine balance. We know the role that we are playing is a role of governance, a role of looking at the company as being on the board, understanding the fundamental technologies that the companies are working with, and how they want to scale. Our value add is invariably in those realms of really looking at pioneering technology, how to build scalable products for markets that are large across a diverse geography. That's our expertise.
On that scale that you just articulated, we will be very far from a hands off, attend board meetings and we'll see you next quarter kind of investors, we are not that. At the same time, on a few occasions, we actually get involved in actually running some of these companies. We're looking at product health, we're looking at customer engagements and all of that for nine months, at the request of the management and the rest of the board, of course. We don't gravitate towards aggressively positioning ourselves to want to operationally run any of these companies. But if you're invited, we absolutely take up the role very seriously. Quite often, the other co-investors see the value and they invite us to do that.
We're very hands-on. We don't play a buyout model in the roles that we play because that's not our mandate, that's not our objective. We are early-stage investors, but we're not shy of rolling up our sleeves and helping operationally if the company needs, and quite often, many companies take us up on that.