Cisco Levels Venture Capital Playing Field With Aspire Fund For Various Founders


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Gina Narcisi

Launched in 2020, Cisco’s Aspire Fund provides direct investments in startups led by women founders and founders of color and also funds venture capital funds led by various executives.

Amanda Gorton, co-founder and CEO of Corellium (Photo via LinkedIn)

An inclusive future for all includes expanding access to venture capital, which has long been imbalanced.

At the height of awareness of growing systemic racial injustice in 2020, Cisco Systems has launched a series of 12 measurable social justice actions designed to encourage generational change for the Black community and other underrepresented groups. One such stock was the Aspire Fund.

A record $330 billion in venture capital was raised in 2021. But women and LatinX founders each received just 2% of the total, while black founders received even less – just 1.3 %, according to Cisco Investments, the tech giant’s corporate venture capital arm. This disparity illustrates how far the industry must go to get capital into the hands of underrepresented innovators, Cisco executives said.

“Our goal is to propel an inclusive future for all. And that purpose is at the heart of everything we do, including our growth and investment strategy. Investing in diversity is an important part of a truly inclusive future,” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said at Cisco Investments’ inaugural virtual Magnetic Aspire Summit on Thursday.


Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Channel: Where We Are And Where We’re Going


The Aspire Fund, launched by Cisco Investments, aims to provide equal access to capital. The fund started with an initial commitment of $50 million to invest in startups and venture capital funds led by various companies.

“We knew that companies with diverse management teams had 19% more revenue due to innovation. And we knew that the venture capital investment teams most likely to fund diverse founders also tend to be diverse. Because venture capital investment and mergers and acquisitions are core to Cisco’s growth strategy, we also knew we had a responsibility to increase diversity in the startup and venture capital ecosystem. -risk,” said Shari Slate, director of inclusion and collaboration and senior vice president at Cisco. President, Inclusive Future and Strategy, at the summit.

Two years later, the Aspire Fund is providing direct investments in startups led by women founders and founders of color. It also funds venture capital funds led by various executives.

Security startup Corellium is one such company that counts Cisco and the Aspire fund among its investors. The company was founded in 2017 and was “bootstrapped” for its first four years, Corellium co-founder and CEO Amanda Gorton told CRN.

In 2021, the company pursued a Series A funding round and landed on Paladin Capital Group, a popular cybersecurity investor, as its lead venture capital backer. In the search for additional partners, Cisco was suggested. Janey Hoe, Vice President of Cisco Investments, then contacted Gorton to discuss the Aspire Fund and asked if Corellium was interested in participating.

“I thought it was such a fabulous idea. It was really a primary driver for us deciding to go with Cisco as an investor,” Gorton said. “This is such a rare opportunity – personally, I don’t know of any other large institutional venture capital that has similar funds specifically dedicated to promoting diversity – and in particular women in cybersecurity. It was a very good fit.

The Aspire Fund has given the Corellium team access to “phenomenal” networking opportunities, in addition to highly capable liaisons and a board spotter who is also a woman in IT – Cisco’s Hoe, Gorton said.

“It’s so wonderful to have a woman on the board and to have a female role model like [Hoe] who I can go to and ask questions,” she said, “it’s a man’s world [and] it can be very difficult, even when you have male allies in the VC space, so I think that’s something that’s a great differentiator for the Aspire Fund.

The focus on diversity literally pays off. Businesses that invest in diversity have been proven to achieve better economic performance, competitive advantage and long-term value creation, Cisco’s Slate said.

“The good news is that doing good for people, planet and society is also good for business,” she said.

    Learn more about Gina Narcisi

Gina Narcisi

Gina Narcisi is editor-in-chief covering networking and telecommunications markets for Prior to joining CRN, she covered networking, unified communications and cloud space for TechTarget. She can be contacted at [email protected]


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