In 2020, as the world struggled with growing social injustice, economic turmoil, and a global pandemic, a green shoot pushed up through the enterprise technology landscape.
Cisco Investments announced its launch of the Aspire Fund, a $50 million commitment to invest over five years to give diverse-led founders, entrepreneurs, and venture leaders equal access to business-accelerating capital, innovation, and support from Cisco.
Since its launch, the Aspire Fund has invested in numerous diverse-led venture funds and tech startups to lift and empower businesses led by women, people of color, and other historically underrepresented minorities while creating positive business outcomes through diversity and inclusion.
To celebrate the progress we’ve made with our Aspire ecosystem while looking ahead to the work that still needs to be done, our Cisco Investments team hosted our inaugural Magnetic Aspire 2022 event, a virtual summit bringing together enterprise technology founders, investors and industry leaders.
At this inaugural one-day virtual summit, our team announced our investment in Glasswing Ventures, a leading first-capital-in VC with a diverse team of partners funding entrepreneurs in next-generation AI and frontier technology at the pre-seed and seed stages, while also driving diversity and inclusion to reflect the communities they operate in.
As Derek Idemoto, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Cisco Investments, said at Magnetic Aspire, “We're proud to back the team at Glasswing—high-performing managers with high-caliber track records who also share in our mission.”
Planting Roots for a More Diverse Enterprise Tech World
Glasswing co-founders Rudina Seseri and Rick Grinnell both graduated from Harvard Business School with their MBAs. They would later work together at Fairhaven Capital for more than a decade before launching Glasswing Ventures in 2016 with the mission to fund early-stage AI and frontier technologies in enterprise and cybersecurity.
Six years later, they’ve held steadfast to their mission with active areas of focus ranging from smart data infrastructure and intelligent vertical SaaS to cybersecurity, data privacy, and compliance.
From its inception, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been at Glasswing’s core, integrated into the fabric of the firm’s business and culture.
“From day one, we had that opportunity to set up our best practices and policies and commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” says Seseri. “We look for folks who have diverse backgrounds and who are best-in-class, and that takes both commitment and a core fundamental belief that to drive superior performance, you need diverse teams.”
Building Better Business Outcomes Through Diversity
The first time I met Rudina and Rick, I was greatly impressed by their programmatic, metrics-based approach to measuring a portfolio company’s diversity and inclusiveness.
As Seseri notes, “It’s not simply a statement of equity and what’s right and wrong. It’s also a commitment to high performance.”
But it’s the venture fund’s dedication to accountability and ongoing improvement that truly sets this early-stage VC apart. For Glasswing, true diversity doesn’t stop at the sourcing stage, but rather, runs deeply throughout the life cycle of the portfolio, from recruitment at all levels down to the details of the firm’s term sheets and limited partnership agreements.
“We cannot improve if we don’t know where we stand,” says Seseri. “Best efforts sometimes just remain best efforts, but if we set some aspirational goals for our companies, founders, and ourselves, then those efforts materialize into better outcomes.”
Integrating diversity into the recruitment process can have a “positive flywheel” effect, Seseri says. She describes that greater visibility of the company’s diverse leadership and team members during interviews and recruiting leads to a proliferation of talent from underrepresented populations joining the company. This is a sensation she has observed in her own portfolio companies.
Seseri’s advice to other founders and investors? “Think of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a core part of the business. You will have a much bigger commitment and drive for a complete team. If you don’t, you’re leaving money and performance on the table, so it’s an opportunity to not just do good, but also do good and do well.”
What Cisco & Glasswing Will Accomplish Together
Glasswing will use the newly raised fund to invest as the first capital into the most-promising AI, security, enterprise, and frontier technology startups.
For Glasswing’s portfolio companies, Cisco will seek opportunities to partner and provide the resources that market-leading startups backed by Glasswing need to connect to and navigate the larger corporate framework, leveraging a tech community that’s both accessible and aligned with their goals.
“We see a tremendous untapped opportunity for enterprise and security applications of AI and data infrastructure across sectors,” Seseri says.
“When Cisco first approached us, we were excited because the Cisco platform has a wide and global reach. But what really makes Cisco unique is their Portfolio Development arm with dedicated, proactive team members who work with our portfolio. Already, we’re seeing that they’re opening doors, checking in on the status of discussions and, generally, just making it easy for us to work with a large corporation. Cisco is a big engine – which can mean it’s hard to navigate – but having people on your team who are committed and capable is an enormous value add.”
At Cisco Investments, we are excited to partner with Glasswing as our missions align around diversity and inclusion, and enterprise technology, particularly in the areas of security and AI.
As we unveil this latest Aspire Fund investment, Cisco and Glasswing’s shared dedication to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will only continue to transform enterprise technology and venture capital.
The future is rife with possibilities as this joint partnership inspires more portfolio companies to identify and implement diversity strategies that will welcome all to the table and create positive change. By fostering environments that cultivate a sense of belonging, more startups are seeing the value gained from improved corporate culture and healthier bottom lines, and it all starts with recognizing the ROI of investing in diversity and inclusion.
“There’s just seamless alignment in mission, impact, and a desire for outperformance,” Seseri says.
We couldn’t agree more and are excited to see what Glasswing will launch next as they take flight toward creating a more diverse and inclusive future for the enterprise technology ecosystem.