Tony Cannestra, Corporate Ventures Leader: Be Open-Minded, Flexible and a Good Listener

Tony Cannestra
Director, Corporate Ventures 

Prior to joining DENSO, Tony worked as an independent consultant helping large Asian corporations with startup technology discovery in Silicon Valley. He also served as Executive Vice President of Ignite Group, a venture capital company based in Silicon Valley. During his tenure at DENSO, Tony has made more than 25 startup investments and led a team that completed an acquisition of a startup company. He currently serves as a Board Director for Blaize, Canatu, Dellfer, MetaWave, and Quadric, all of which are DENSO portfolio companies. Within DENSO’s active areas of investment, Tony has focused particularly on computer vision technologies, such as advanced radar and LiDAR, next generation semiconductor technologies, additive manufacturing and automotive cybersecurity.

Corporate Ventures 

Tony leads DENSO’s Corporate Venture Capital team, overseeing all of DENSO’s efforts to identify, invest in and work with startup companies. The team of four mediates between startup companies and DENSO, aligning our efforts and creating win-win relationships that accomplish both the startup companies’ goals and DENSO’s vision for the future. 

Open to New Possibilities 

My philosophy is really driven by the work that I do. Working with startup companies, we have to be open to new possibilities and new ways of working. Working with others and being open to doing things differently offers so many opportunities for growth and helps us contribute to a better world.    

Be Open Minded: When looking for different technologies and startups around the world, our team needs to have an open mind. Startups often have big ideas and unique concepts or technologies to solve a problem. It is our job to be open minded about what they have to offer, and open to the possibility that the technology could work. Then it’s a matter of matching them with experts in DENSO to verify and hopefully make it a reality. Being open minded allows us to create products and technologies we didn’t even know were possible.  

Be Flexible: As an organization, DENSO has its own interests and targets to achieve success. But, when working with startups, we need to be flexible and open to their vision and interests as well. We need to find a way to work together so the startup has a chance to be successful. It is about defining a win-win relationship that works for both DENSO and the startup. Ultimately, this allows us to advance our vision for the future and better contribute to society.  

Be a Good Listener: The technology that we often see with startups is very new to DENSO, and, in many cases, new to the industry. Being a good listener, we can more deeply understand what startups are trying to accomplish, as well as the benefits and possibilities the technology has to offer. Having this understanding, my team can better support the startup and identify the right groups within DENSO to move forward.   

Philosophy in Action 

A few years ago, DENSO invested in Dellfer. We incubated the company, building it from the ground up. It started with me and a colleague talking to a CEO and CTO from a startup company, discussing different opportunities around cyber security. Later, the CEO followed-up with us and said they were not interested in the automotive industry at this time. However, about a month later, the CTO called me and said he kept thinking about our meeting. He was very interested in the cybersecurity challenges the auto industry is facing. He proposed meeting to discuss starting a new company that could tackle these issues. After much discussion and brainstorming, we developed a path forward, which led to launching Dellfer. Our team was flexible and open to what would help the startup succeed, listened carefully to the CTO’s ideas, and provided our expertise and feedback to help improve the ideas further. If we continue to take this approach, we will be very successful with startups.

Overcoming Challenges 

One challenge for our Capital Ventures group is marketing who we are, what we do, and how we can help other groups within DENSO. DENSO teams are constantly facing different technology gaps or challenges – we could introduce them to a startup that might help.  

Another challenge is how we operate. DENSO is a strategic investor. Being strategic means our approval process can take time, which sometimes does not align with the fast pace that startups are used to. We have streamlined our process over the past few years and continue to improve in these areas. 

Leading the Way 

Tony was recently recognized by industry group Global Corporate Venturing as one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in 2023! Not only was Tony recognized as a leader in the industry, his efforts help establish DENSO as a leader in this area, being the only Tier 1 automotive supplier to appear on this year’s list. 

What do you like about DENSO? 

In his 80s, my father’s mobility became limited. He was no longer able to drive to have lunch with friends or play a round of golf. Seeing that he could no longer freely enjoy his hobbies made the possibility of autonomous driving even more appealing to me. DENSO has been working toward this and other advancements that will have huge, positive impacts on the future of society. That’s what keeps me here and motivates me to continue bringing advanced technology and startups to DENSO.   

Working with Tony: 
Julie Kerr, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications 

I’ve had the honor of working with Tony many times since he joined DENSO, promoting the startup investments he’s brought to DENSO and partnering on our activities at the Consumer Electronics Show to find new potential startup partners. His skills and experience have helped strengthen our contributions to the future of mobility. Tony is passionate about helping the next generation of entrepreneurs to be successful, and he willingly shares his insights and counsel with startups whenever he has the opportunity. Tony stands out in a crowd, and not just due to his height (he’s 6’ 4” tall)! He’s gregarious and engaging, and I encourage you to have a chat with him when you see him. You’ll enjoy the conversation and learn something new!