Based in Silicon Valley, Toyota AI Ventures is a venture capital subsidiary of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). We invest in entrepreneurs from around the world who share our commitment to improving the quality of human life through artificial intelligence, with a focus on autonomous mobility, robotics, data and cloud.
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Who We Are
Technical Advisory Committee
Leveraging the technical expertise and resources of TRI and the extended Toyota family, our mission is to help early-stage startups bring disruptive innovations and business models to market quickly by offering funding, validation, mentorship, and incubation facilities. The entrepreneurs who partner with us receive much more than money. We believe their success is our success. It is our mission to support them every step of the journey by providing access to a world-class team and a network with global reach, while giving founders the freedom and flexibility they need to experiment and grow their businesses.
Work With Us
We look for innovators who have the courage and tenacity to tackle important challenges we have yet to solve. It’s the same spirit of innovation that inspired Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda and his team to devote themselves to transforming Toyota from a loom maker to an automotive manufacturer in the 1930’s. And it is this same vision that continues to drive Toyota today.
Armed with an initial $100 million to invest, Toyota AI Ventures will seek companies that are taking on challenging research…”
The goal is to accelerate the pace of getting critical new technologies to market.”
Toyota is merging brilliance with a big budget by funding some new cutting-edge technology.”
Bob WolfeBoard Member
Bob Wolfe has more than 30 years of experience in investment banking, finance, and investment management. Since 2008, he has been the principal of Windy Point, LLC, a private investment and strategic consulting firm. He is currently chairman of Red Lion Hotels Corporation, and a board member of Symetra, Inc.
From 2002 to 2008, he was a partner at Northwest Venture Associates (NWVA), a venture capital fund that invested exclusively in companies based in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to his time at NWVA, Bob was president and chief operating officer of Toronto-based GT Group Telecom, which was Canada’s largest independent local exchange carrier.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Pacific Lutheran University.
Gill PrattBoard Member
Dr. Gill Pratt is the chief executive officer of Toyota Research Institute, a research and development enterprise designed to bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development. He also serves as the executive technical advisor to Toyota Motor Corporation.
Dr. Pratt joined Toyota from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) where he served as a program manager in the Defense Sciences Office. Prior to that, he was a professor and the associate dean of faculty affairs and research at Franklin W. Olin College.
He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was an associate professor and director of the Leg Lab.
Jim AdlerManaging Director and Board Member
Jim Adler is the founding managing director of Toyota AI Ventures, and an executive advisor at Toyota Research Institute (TRI). He also serves on the Investment Committee of JetBlue Technology Ventures and on the Department of Homeland Security Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.
Jim joined Toyota AI Ventures from TRI, where he served as vice president of data and business development. Prior to that, Jim was vice president of products and marketing at Metanautix, a big data analytics startup funded by Sequoia Capital and Workday that was acquired by Microsoft.
Previously, Jim was the vice president of data systems and chief privacy officer at Intelius, which was acquired by H.I.G. Capital. In addition, he founded VoteHere, a pioneer in cryptographic secure and secret online voting for public elections that was funded by Cisco and HP, among others. Jim started his career as a rocket engineer for Lockheed Martin.
He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with high honors from the University of Florida, and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California, San Diego.
Kelly KayBoard Member
Kelly Kay is the chief finance officer at Toyota Research Institute (TRI), responsible for finance, human resources, IT, legal/compliance, facilities, and overall operations. Kelly joined TRI in February 2017 and formerly served as the chief operating officer.
Prior to TRI, Kelly served as the vice president of business operations at Lyft, Inc., where she built and led the teams responsible for regulatory compliance, audit & reporting, payments & fraud, and airport operations. She also served as the chief operating officer and president of YapStone, Inc. Prior to serving as an operational leader, she was an attorney for more than 19 years, working at companies such as MasterCard, eBay, PayPal and J.P. Morgan (previously Banc One).
She attended The Ohio State University and Capital University Law School where she graduated summa cum laude.
Natalie Fonseca LicciardiVP, Platform & Marketing
Natalie Fonseca Licciardi is the vice president of platform and marketing at Toyota AI Ventures, responsible for leading the firm’s marketing efforts and spearheading strategic initiatives to support portfolio companies.
Prior to joining Toyota AI Ventures, Natalie consulted with the Toyota Research Institute on data policy and governance. She was also founder and CEO of SageScape, a boutique events and marketing agency specializing in the technology industry, and co-founder and executive producer of Tech Policy Summit and Privacy Identity Innovation. She has worked with several tech startups and media companies, including Vox Media where she served as head of conference development and marketing, and Recode where she led marketing and audience development.
She received a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Vinuth RaiDirector of Business Development
Vinuth Rai is the director of business development at Toyota AI Ventures, responsible for supporting the firm’s portfolio companies and advising them on business development, partnerships, and product-market fit.
Vinuth joins Toyota AI Ventures from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), where he led product management and partnership efforts to build cloud and data services for TRI’s self-driving program. Prior to TRI, he was the director of connected services division at Toyota InfoTechnology Center USA where he was responsible for new product development for a variety of connected car and mobility efforts.
He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Santa Clara University.
Masa YamatoBusiness Development and Program Manager
Masa Yamato serves as business development and program manager at Toyota Research Institute and Toyota AI Ventures where his responsibilities include investing in startups, providing resources to portfolio companies, and facilitating strategic relationships between startups and Toyota.
Prior to his current role, he worked in a variety of functions within Toyota Motor Corporation, including corporate strategy, M&A and strategic partnerships, production planning and human resources/organization management. He originally joined Toyota to work on the research and development of novel, cutting-edge materials for automotive applications.
He received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, a master’s degree from Osaka University, an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, and a Master of Engineering Management degree from McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University.
Shigeki TomoyamaBoard member
Shigeki Tomoyama is senior managing officer and chief information security officer for Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). He also serves as chief officer of the business development group, the external affairs & public affairs group, and the information systems group at TMC. In addition, he became president of Connected Company and Gazoo Racing Company in April 2016 and April 2017 respectively.
Prior to his appointment as senior managing officer in 2015, Mr. Tomoyama held several different roles within TMC, including general manager of e-TOYOTA Division and chief officer of the IT group.
He joined TMC after receiving his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Gunma University in 1981.
Chris Abshire is an analyst at Toyota AI Ventures, responsible for identifying startups, analyzing opportunities, and conducting due diligence.
Prior to joining Toyota AI Ventures, Chris was on the investment team at Fenox Venture Capital, where he led the U.S. due diligence process and market research activities. He also was executive director of the firm’s Startup World Cup event, a platform that created innovation opportunities for startup ecosystems around the world.
He received a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Kansas, where he received the CPE Outstanding Academic Achievement Award for graduating at the top of his class.
Jill Ford is a principal at Toyota AI Ventures, focused on discovering investment opportunities and working closely with our portfolio companies. Passionate about enabling people through technology innovation, she brings a wealth of experience as a corporate business development executive, economic development leader, and innovator.
Jill joins Toyota AI Ventures from the Mayor’s team at the City of Detroit, where she served as the head of innovation and entrepreneurship. In that role, she attracted and grew startups and small businesses by engaging directly with entrepreneurs, finding gaps in Detroit’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, and working with public and private sector partners to create programs, such as the Motor City Match, to fill these gaps.
Previously, Jill held global technology leadership roles, heading Disney Mobile’s worldwide distribution to mobile device manufacturers, and running Motorola’s global games usage. She also ran a company in Ghana that discovered, developed, and funded new entrepreneurs.
She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Harvard University, and a Wharton MBA in finance and entrepreneurial management.
Darren SmithFinance Manager
Darren is the finance manager at Toyota AI Ventures, responsible for management of funds, portfolio valuation, and other business operations.
Darren joins Toyota AI Ventures from a finance and accounting consulting role at The Siegfried Group, where he assisted clients with financial due diligence for a variety of acquisitions. He also led merger and acquisition integration work and provided divestiture support, reporting to the management team. Previously, he held roles in Deloitte’s M&A Transaction Services group, and PwC’s Audit and Assurance group.
He received a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Alberta and holds his Chartered Accountant and Chartered Professional Accountant designations.
Marilyn ConlanExecutive Assistant
Marilyn Conlan is executive assistant to Jim Adler, and is responsible for managing scheduling and ensuring that Toyota AI Ventures runs smoothly on a daily basis.
Previously, Marilyn worked at a private equity firm in San Francisco, and at a hedge fund and asset management fund in New York City. Prior to working in finance, she held several roles in the non-profit sector, including as an executive director with Habitat for Humanity and a community organizer with Catholic Charities. Several of the programs she helped to establish and fund are still serving communities in New York and Washington.
She received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University, and a master’s degree in communication from Washington State University.
Abraham AnapolskyManager, Accelerated Materials Design and Discovery
Abraham Anapolsky serves as manager for Accelerated Materials Design and Discovery (AMDD) at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), where he is leading an effort to address the 21st century challenge of increasingly complex technical materials using active learning and machine intelligence.
Abraham has been active in industrial research and development for 15 years, starting as a materials analyst at Applied Materials. His focus has been on materials for energy technologies, in PV manufacturing, Li-ion and solid state batteries, low-E coatings, and permanent magnet development.
He received his bachelor’s degree in physics at San Francisco State University, and a master’s degree and doctorate in materials science and mineral engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
Max BajracharyaDirector of Robotics
Max Bajracharya is a director of robotics at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), where he focuses on enabling robots to improve the quality of human life and extend independence.
Previously, Max was a technical lead as part of Google Robotics, including at Boston Dynamics, X, and The Moonshot Factory. He also served as a principal investigator and task lead at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for various NASA, DARPA, and other U.S. Department of Defense projects.
Sagar BehereSenior Manager, Systems Engineering
Sagar Behere leads the systems engineering team at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). His areas of focus at TRI include functional safety, system architecture, and technical integration for complex, safety-critical systems in general, and highly automated driving in particular. His previous experience ranges from working with early-stage startups to large government contractors, across India, Europe, and North America.
Sagar received his doctoral degree in machine design from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, where he continues to maintain a research role. He is passionate about combining results from the domains of industrial mechatronics, artificial intelligence, and machine consciousness to create architectures for applied machine intelligence.
Tiffany ChenManager, Human Machine Interaction Research
Tiffany Chen currently manages the Toyota Research Institute’s (TRI) Human Machine Interaction Research (HMIR) group, which is comprised of designers, researchers, and engineers. HMIR seeks to understand how multi-modal interactions with drivers can enhance the performance of TRI’s Chauffeur and Guardian driving systems.
Prior to joining TRI, Tiffany worked for Toyota North America and served as the human-robot interaction research lead to develop a wearable computer vision device to help enhance the situation awareness of blind people while navigating.
She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University, where she specialized in computer-integrated surgery. She received her doctoral degree in robotics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she specialized in haptics and manipulation in the context of assisting older adults and people with severe motor impairments.
Adrien GaidonSenior Research Scientist
Adrien Gaidon is a senior research scientist and the manager of the machine learning team at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), working on open problems in world-scale learning for autonomous driving.
Adrien has over a decade of experience in academic and industrial computer vision, and his work has appeared in more than 27 publications. He was also a guest editor for the International Journal of Computer Vision. In addition, he has received recognition for top entries in international computer vision competitions, as well as multiple best reviewer awards.
He received his doctoral degree from Microsoft Research - Inria Paris in 2012.
Alex GreenSenior Engineer, Sensor Evaluation
Alex Green serves as senior engineer, sensor evaluation at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). He brings 15 years of practical experience in robotics, software, and electrical engineering to TRI, having completed successful projects for international commercial, government and military clients.
His previous experience includes development of the P25 interface to the CISCO IPIX gateway, improving production at an electronics manufacturing plant, and code auditing for a hedge fund. He also held operational roles at two startups, and has served as an expert witness in three telecommunications crime cases.
Alex’s doctoral work focused on automation of heavy vehicles over off-road terrain and, during his candidature, he designed the control circuitry for the autonomous platform.
Sharin KimHead of Automated Driving Field Operations
Sharin Kim is the head of the automated driving field operations team at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) where she is responsible for the team’s organizational growth, vehicle testing processes and procedures, testing policies, and driver training.
Before joining TRI, Sharin was a part of the operations team at the Google X Self Driving Car Project, now known as Waymo. Previously, she worked as a financial and marketing manager in the private sector before getting involved in the future of mobility. She has a passion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as various social problems related to poverty.
She received a bachelor’s degree in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Nikos MichalakisVP, Software Platform
Nikos Michalakis is the vice president of software platform at Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), responsible for the company’s software infrastructure and tools, including cloud, big data, machine learning infrastructure, simulation and vehicle operating system.
Nikos joined the Toyota family in 2016, and served as director of the cloud and big data platform team at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). Prior to Toyota, he worked on Netflix’s cloud platform and developer tools team to help scale the productivity of Netflix engineers. Previously, Nikos helped develop software and teams at a series of startups, including a big data startup that was acquired by Microsoft, and an education tech startup that grew from 60 to 200 employees.
He holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in electrical engineering & computer science and mathematics from MIT.