Member Spotlight: Tom Gwinn, Evonik
Silicon Foundry’s expanding network of Corporate Members are driving transformation at some of the world’s most respected global brands — from leaders in mobility, mining and telecom, to beauty, retail, energy, financial services and beyond.
Tom Gwinn is an Investment Manager at Evonik Venture Capital (EVC) based in Silicon Valley. Tom has been actively involved in the technology community in the valley for over a decade. Prior to joining Evonik, Tom has held roles in venture capital investing, startup patent strategy, and applied physics research — providing a broad set of experiences to draw upon in support of Evonik’s investments. Tom has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Caltech, an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
What are the experiences that led you to Evonik and, in particular, what motivated you to make the jump from traditional venture capital to corporate venture capital?
From a very young age, I have been fascinated by the power technology has to make the world a better place, and my career choices have been driven primarily by a single question: how can I contribute most impactfully to advancing technological progress? Joining Evonik was less for me about making a move from traditional to corporate VC and more about recognizing an opportunity to make a difference. Evonik’s position as a leader in the specialty chemicals space provides significant ability to effect change, and this position — in combination with a serious commitment to leverage Silicon Valley startups as a tool to do so — made EVC a natural fit. I am particularly excited to help Evonik kindle partnerships with startups where both can derive significant value.
How has your legal background impacted your approach to venture investment?
Prior to moving to VC, I spent six years developing patent strategies for venture-backed startups and investing in those startups. In doing so, I developed a good idea of the stories startups tell to raise capital (and the role intellectual property plays in that), and got the opportunity to work closely with a number of high impact founders and startups. I also appreciated seeing how becoming a trusted solution provider for a startup really changes the view you get into the company, and resultantly I view that establishment of trust as critical to my role as an investor.
What are the industries and areas that you are the most interested in right now?
The majority of Evonik’s investments align with one of our innovation growth fields: additive manufacturing, advanced food ingredients, cosmetic solutions, healthcare solutions, membranes, and sustainable nutrition. We also have a strong interest in digital transformation, and I am particularly interested in how we can leverage innovations in topics like automation, data analytics, IoT, and supply chain to increase Evonik’s impact potential. New topics I am exploring include enablers for hydrogen economy and circular economy for polymers.
Do you have any particular advice for startups that are looking to engage with Evonik?
As the venture capital scene has matured, startups have become increasingly sophisticated storytellers, and it is understood that success with traditional VCs hinges upon conveying a concise and compelling growth narrative. Corporate VC is much newer, and startups are less used to crafting the very different types of stories that appeal to strategic investors. At Evonik, we are most excited about symbiotic opportunities, where we can contribute to a startup’s success as significantly as they can to ours. Some of our best conversations occur when founders understand this and actively seek to establish a supporting narrative. This can be challenging for a startup to do independently, but they need not go it alone — we are highly motivated to be collaborators in the process.