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About Us

Management Team


Pejman Makhfi
Founder and Managing Director

Pejman Makhfi is a Silicon Valley technology veteran, serial entrepreneur and angel investor in the high-tech industry. Pejman has more than eighteen years of progressive experience in providing consultancy services and best practices to entrepreneurs, technology investors, and forward-thinking Startups.

Widely known as a leader in the field of Business Process Management and Knowledge Modeling, Pejman has an extensive background in the software and financial industries and has been the key architect for several award-winning industry leaders such as FinancialCircuit and Savvion.

His background includes:

CTO position at FinancialCircuit, a company recognized as the technological innovator for financial industry and awarded as Silicon Valley's Ninth Fastest-Growing Private Company in 2003. (Acquired by LPL)

CTO position at TEN (The Enterprise Network), a top Silicon Valley technology incubator hosting more than fifty Start-ups. Pejman managed TEN’s R&D as well as advised startups on the issues and trends affecting early stage and emerging growth companies. TEN has helped launch of many companies, including eBay, iPrint, Xros, Vertical Networks, Right Works, and Intruvert Networks.

VP of Solutions at Savvion, where he defines the roadmap and manages all solution development activities for Telecom, Financial Services and Life Sciences industries.

Director of Venture Development at Singularity Institute, Managing Director of a private angel group and a member of Venture Mentoring Team where he provides assistance and guidance to several early-stage companies.

Mr. Makhfi holds a B.S./M.S. degree in Computer Science from Dortmund University in Germany and is a Scrum Master (CSM), an internationally licensed Project Manager (PMP) as well as a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (SSBB) in continuous business improvement. He has authored multiple Patents and standards and is an active contributor to organizations such as "IEEE Neural Networks Society", "American Association for Artificial Intelligence" and “American Society for Quality”.

Mr. Makhfi is the author of numerous articles, including Heptalysis A Methodic Approach to Venture Management and NPDI Processes (to manage New Product Development and Introduction).


Chutta Ratnathicam
Managing Director

Having served as CFO, Chutta has twenty seven years experience in Finance and Executive management with Conway (NYSE CNW) a $4+ billion publicly traded global transportation and logistics company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. He held several positions in its subsidiaries and the corporate office. Experience in CFO functions, Finance, Strategic Planning, Investor relations, International Operations and sales, Internal Audit and Financial Accounting and Information Technology.

Chutta currently serves on the Board of Directors of Franklin Resources Inc, a $3+ billion Financial Services Company headquartered in San Mateo, California and is on Advisory Board of California State University, School of Business.

Chutta holds an MBA from University of Portland and has been a Member, Council of Financial Executives, the Conference Board.


Cirrus Shakeri
Managing Director

Cirrus Shakeri has been in the forefront of applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to building enterprise software for more than 15 years. His focus has been on process automation, information management, and big data analytics in a wide range of domains and industries. He has deep technical know-how in many areas of AI including semantic technologies, machine learning, knowledge graphs, natural language processing (NLP), recommendation systems, automated sense making, and multi-agent systems. He has applied AI technologies in enterprise software including engineering design automation, supply chain optimization, enterprise performance management, customer support optimization, enterprise recruiting, eLearning systems, situational awareness for first responders, enterprise social networks, enterprise knowledge management and many more.

Previously, Cirrus was a senior director at the office of the CTO at SAP working on technology trend analysis and technology scouting, building prototypes and frontrunner applications, putting together technology strategy for legacy systems and platform renewal, co-developing products with customers, and technical/scientific research. Cirrus has also worked for small and medium size companies and because of that he is of the opinion that startup and small companies should leverage their speed and agility to innovate fast while large corporations should rely on their strength in scaling up (and out) the innovative products that small companies build.

Cirrus has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s degree in control systems, and a Ph.D. in the applications of artificial intelligence in engineering. He is a US patent holder and has published in academic journals and has given talks at industry conferences.


Fernando Garcia
Managing Director

Fernando Garcia has a rich business background combining entrepreneurial and managerial experience with business school research & teaching.

Mr. Garcia began his business career in the mergers & acquisitions department of Kidder Peabody & Company and worked on major M&A client engagements including General Electric, DuPont, and Honeywell, among others, advising them on potential acquisitions, divestures, and other corporate finance issues. At that time, Kidder was a major Wall Street firm representing Fortune 500 companies.

He has served as president of First Venture Securities Corporation and Cambridge Venture Partners, where he identified and structured transactions for middle market privately held companies seeking financing for "roll-ups" via acquisition or merger, including $100 million equity investment for businesses in the global power supply manufacturing industry. In addition, Mr. Garcia advised small and middle market companies on operational issues as well as financing acquisitions and business expansion.

Since 2004, Mr. Garcia has been the chief investment advisor to a global private equity fund, reviewing investment opportunities in Asia, and Latin America.

Mr. Garcia has taught corporate finance and entrepreneurship courses at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis. Mr. Garcia was born in Los Angeles, California, and received his M.B.A. degree from Harvard Business School, and B.A. and law degrees from UC Berkeley.


Dr. W. Keith Kennedy Jr.
Managing Director

W. Keith Kennedy Jr. is Chairman of the Board of Con-way, a publicly traded global supply-chain management company.

Dr. Kennedy has served as Chair of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network and has served on the board of that organization for over ten years. At the present time he serves on two boards of organizations sponsored by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley: Smart Valley which deals in Information Technology and Smart Health.

He has lectured at Stanford University in both the School of Engineering and the Graduate School of Business and he was a visiting professor at U.C. Davis' Graduate School of Management. He has also lectured at Cornell University, Southern
Methodist University and Santa Clara University.

Other organizations for which he as served as a member of the board include the California Chamber of Commerce, New California Network, Lytton Gardens, Superschools Foundation of the Fremont High School District, Pacific Skyline Council
of the Boy Scouts of America, Silicon Valley Defense/Space Consortium, Center for Quality Management (West) and the Bay Area Council of the American Electronics Association.

Dr. Kennedy earned a B.S.E.E., M.S. and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. He continues to support Cornell University as a member of the Engineering College Council and is also a member of the University Council.


Robert Schweikher
Managing Director

Mr. Schweikher has over 30 years of Chairman, CEO, COO and Executive management experience managing companies and businesses that have spanned from the early start-up stage to over $700 million in size. These companies have been in the aerospace, agricultural biotechnology, electronic materials & devices, advanced materials, agricultural chemical and wireless communication sectors. He has been actively involved as a principal, advisor, or director with early and late stage companies within these sectors. His most recent startups have been Terra Access, Comtier, TerraMeth Industries and Calgene.

His experience and expertise is in finance, strategic and tactical planning, operations, marketing, product development, business development, chaos & change management, acquisitions and divestitures, restructuring, and turnarounds. He has successfully led significant company acquisitions, company divestures, joint ventures, and numerous licenses for product and technology. He has served on the boards of Nitragin Company, Nippon Amorphous Metals Company, Biologicals, Conductimer Corporation, Calgene Inc., and TerraMeth Industries. Mr. Schweikher also has served on the U.S. Feed Grains Council and Board of the Semiconductor Equipment & Materials Institute (SEMI). He has also served as an advisor to TEN, the Silicon Valley Incubator, and De Anza – San Jose Business Incubator as a mentor.

Currently Mr. Schweikher is the founder and chairman of a private consulting practice, founded in 1985, providing chaos and change management services to investors and management of start up through medium sized business faced with major strategic and tactical operational issues.


John West
Managing Director

John has a broad business and technical background that includes International Business Development, Direct/Indirect Sales, and Marketing on top of solid Product Development and Engineering foundation for a wide variety of enterprise-level software products.

John was a Channel and Alliance Sales executive at NetManage having joined them when they acquired Librados, a highly successful open-source software vendor where he had been an advisor from the start of the company.

As a Business Development specialist at BEA for 6 years, John drove revenue growth through worldwide channel programs and major accounts sales initiatives leveraging strategic ISV and SI partners and spearheading new technology introductions. In this role he lived in Tokyo for two years helping them to become the fastest growing region in the world growing over 200%.

Before that John ran Product Marketing and Product Development in global systems vendors ICL, Fujitsu, and Sperry Univac driving breakthrough developments in fault tolerant computer systems.

John is known best for his exceptional strategic planning and product positioning skills due to his technology plus business background on top of Math/Economics education. He has a Bachelors degree in Math and Economics from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota and attended University of Minnesota MBA program.


Ali Bassir
Managing Director

Ali has over 16 years of leadership experience in the High Tech industry, with principal focus in Telecom, M&A, Competitive Research, Due Diligence and Social Media.
He has proven leader with extensive operations and management experience in line, staff and consulting roles with budget management responsibility for up to $50M. His background includes:
Maintaining and Dealing with local and multi-national facilities demands in a seamless fashion. Managing vendor negotiations, including development of RFP, proposal review, Global vendor selection, and contract negotiations. Managing clients’ Web Hosting development to enable B2B, B2C e-Commerce, Social Media, and SEO.
Enabling extranet infrastructure, storage, and product development.
Managing projects deploying global WAN/VPN using ATM, IPL, Frame Relay, Ethernet, DSL, & WiFi. Vendor Management. Vendors included: AT&T, Verizon, Level 3, & Time Warner.
Clients include: Sun Microsystems, Cisco, DirecTV, Megapath, Litton, Nestle, Western Financial, SCE, Blue Cross, Kaiser, Blue Shield, Polycom, Wepex, American
Saving Bank, Winstar, Toyota, Wells Fargo, BofA, SGI, Disney, Samsung, Pioneer
as well as a number of small to medium businesses.


Stephen Gertz
Managing Director

Stephen Gertz is President of Sage Associates, providing management consulting and investment banking services to early stage technology companies.

He currently lectures in the MBA program at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, within the Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley. Additionally, he is an adjunct professor and advisory board member for both Entrepreneurship and Interactive Media Studies at Miami University (Oxford, OH) teaching Entrepreneurship.

Steve has more than thirty years of senior operating management and strategic consulting experience (at C-level positions) at both start-up and established technology-application companies, domestically and in Europe and Asia. Steve has served as CEO, President and board member of several venture-backed early stage companies where he defined and developed strategic direction for these companies. Steve is a former Senior Partner with Diamond Management & Technology Consultants (Nasdaq:DTPI), a global management consulting firm. Steve’s background also includes technology investment banking where he specialized in venture financing for Internet start-ups during the Internet’s breakout stage.

Steve holds a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance from Long Island University, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio).


Robert Walstra, PhD
Managing Director

Bob brings to VentureChoice a 20-year track record in new-business creation, market development, and technology sales serving in executive positions in the start-up and enterprise sectors.

Prior to VentureChoice, he headed sales, marketing, and business development for one of the leading enterprise software companies in Identity and Access Management, which was acquired by IBM. Before that he established a database-as-a-service start-up as the leading vendor in the online-media sector. As a co-founder, he created an entirely new business in Tax Technologies and delivered global tax compliance systems to public companies in the high-tech sector. He established European sales operations with offices in Amsterdam, London, and Rome for his first start-up.

Before joining start-up community, Bob launched Hewlett-Packard's early and successful presence in electronic banking and electronic commerce delivering installations with banking and telecom conglomerates in the US, Japan, and Europe. He started with HP as an R&D project manager in parallel system design, followed by an assignment to create HP's software factory.

Bob holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Toronto, and an engineering degree in Applied Mathematics from the Twente University in The Netherlands.


Advisory Board

Dr. Marc R. Hannah
Co-Founder Silicon Graphics, Angel Investor

Dr. Hannah co-founded Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) and spent 16 years there helping grow the company from a small startup to a multi-billion dollar computer hardware and software company with products from desktop workstations to large, multiprocessor supercomputers. When Dr. Hannah left the company in 1997, he was Vice President and Chief Scientist.

At SGI, Dr. Hannah was chief architect for most of the company’s low-end and mid-range graphics systems. His duties also included evaluating technologies and markets in the 2-5 year time frame to propose new products and strategies. He worked closely with Jim Clark to initiate projects to deliver SGI technologies into consumer applications, including the Nintendo-64 game machine for Nintendo and Orlando Interactive TV trial for Time-Warner.

Since leaving SGI, Dr. Hannah has done consulting projects for SGI and other companies, and participated in a few start-ups, including Omniverse Digital Solutions, a minority focused, web-based media company (as VP of Technology), Pulsent Corporation, a technology company developing compression technology for video delivery over the Internet (as VP of Product Architecture), and SongPro, a consumer electronics company focused on offering portable media players cartridges and content for the Nintendo Game Boy (as Chief Technology Officer). Dr. Hannah has also served on several corporate Boards.

Dr. Hannah received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, and an MS and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
Dr. Hannah has been granted 13 patents, and received numerous awards & honors, including: Kilby Young Innovator Award; Black Engineer of the Year Technical Contribution Award; IIT Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award; NTA Professional Achievement Award; San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce Front Runner Award; M.E.N.T.O.R. Network Technology Award; M.O.B.E Influencers & Innovators Award.


Blake Escudier, PhD, MBA
CEO, Entrepreneur, Business Owner Counselor

Blake has a diverse business background with 20 years of start-up, small/medium enterprise (SME) experience. Most recently Blake was the Director of Small Business Development for Northern California with San Jose State University where he managed a federally contracted program with an annual average of five thousand small business clients in counseling and more than fifteen thousand in training seminars.

Prior to this nationally recognized position, he was the Director of the Small Business Development Center in Southeastern Washington State with over 400 direct business clients including start-ups from the Dept of Energy Hanford Nuclear site.

Blake's specialty areas include counseling with business owners, marketing strategies and has been teaching college level marketing courses and public short courses for the past 14 years. As an entrepreneur he has started businesses ranging from a sports agency to online retail. He is CEO of Entrepanalysis LLC, a business counseling firm.

Blake has been an instructor with Washington State University and San Jose State University. He has a BBA and MBA from Loyola University New Orleans and served in the United States Navy's nuclear program. In January 2009 he completed a PhD in Organization and Management from Capella University.
Blake resides in Melbourne, Australia and has branch offices in California and Louisiana.


Sam Pullara
CEO, Venture Capitalist, Angel Investor

Sam provides valuable experience in the Private Equity business from many perspectives, especially working inside a leading Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm, but also being an active Angel investor working with many Angel groups, and having worked in corporate development evaluating strategic investment opportunities.

As an EIR (Entrepreneur In Residence) at Accel Partners, a highly successful VC, Sam evaluates possible investments and consults for portfolio companies. Currently founder and CEO at Gauntlet Systems, an early stage software startup, he has also worked as Technical Advisor at 3Tera, Angel Investor at Gene Network Sciences, Angel Investor at 4charity.com, Private Equity Investor at Kenamea, Inc., Private Equity Investor at NextMonet.com, and in Corporate Development at BEA where he was one of the architects of the WebLogic Server.

Sam has a Masters of Science degree in Physics from Northwestern University and a Bachelors of Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


David Richards
CEO, Serial Entrepreneur, Visionary, Investor

Mr. Richards, has over 12 years as an executive in the software industry and sits on both boards and advisory boards of Silicon Valley start-up ventures. Mr. Richards is a veteran of several successful start-up companies in Enterprise Software and is an industry-recognized leader in both EAI and EAI standards. He has spoken and written widely about standards in application integration and the adoption of open-source technologies. It is Mr Richards' vision of lowering costs and adopting standards that is driving down the costs of adapter technology in the EAI industry.

David was VP and General Manager at NetManage after they acquired Librados in 2004. He was Founder, Chairman and CEO of Librados and before that, Insevo, both highly successful software startup companies.
He is also one of the founding members of the EAI consortium; an organization actively involved in the development of standards for integration infrastructure and chairs the adapter committee.


Dan Meyers
Attorney, Entrepreneur, Advisor

Dan Meyers is a seasoned attorney with 13 years of experience representing start-ups, private technology companies, large public companies and venture capital funds in the various corporate, intellectual property, equity financing and acquisition transactions that are central to the success of technology companies in Silicon Valley. Dan was a partner in the Silicon Valley office of a major national law firm, Bingham McCutchen, for over five years. He has a wealth of experience representing emerging growth companies from start-ups to mature private companies in Financing, M&A and IP related transactions.

Dan Meyers graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1994. He began practicing corporate and transactional law with Bingham McCutchen in its Silicon Valley office in 1996, and became a partner in 2001.


Erik Randles
Entrepreneur, Advisor, Investor

Erik Randles has more than 15 years of leadership experience in building start-ups, executing deals and guiding top-tier companies in the technology industry. An accomplished corporate strategist, operational leader and investor, his achievements have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Asia Times and eMarketWorld as well as other business media.

Erik is the founder of Avalon Advisors and has provided services to many start-ups and leading technology and private equity firms including KPCB, Partech International, KKR, Norwest Venture Partners, Veritas and Composite Software. Erik is an active investor and has negotiated and executed over $500 million in acquisitions and early-stage technology investments. Erik has also held leadership positions at BEA Systems, KPMG and Suntory International, and currently sits on the advisory board of several software start-ups.

Erik earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Baylor University and his MBA from the University of Notre Dame.


Coleman Gross, PhD
Scientific and Clinical Expert

Dr. Gross is the Medical Director of AVIYA Clinical Research and Development. He has been involved in research, both in academic medical centers and the biopharmaceutical industry for over 14 years. He has experience in all stages of biomedical research from bench to clinical research.

Dr. Gross has led multidisciplinary teams within the biopharmaceutical industry and has considerable experience in preclinical development, clinical development strategy and planning, clinical trial design, protocol development, and clinical trial execution. Dr. Gross is also an experienced clinical investigator and has conducted pharmaceutical and NIH sponsored studies in multiple therapeutic areas including metabolic diseases, endocrinology, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, and other disease areas. He has served as a medical and scientific expert in successful financing and licensing projects. Dr. Gross also maintains active clinical practice in diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism.

Dr. Gross received an AB from the University of California, Berkeley and a MD from the University of Southern California. He completed postgraduate training at UCLA and Stanford University. Dr. Gross is board certified in internal medicine, endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. Dr. Gross is Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCSF.


David Belgum
Financial Solutions, Advisor

David has spent the last 12 years in finance leadership roles at Silicon Valley startups. He is the founder of Belgum Financial Solutions which provides CFO services to venture-backed companies. His passion is helping early-stage companies establish strategic and operational excellence as a cornerstone for creating wealth. He also conducts independent valuations and advises companies on a variety of valuation issues and is a member of the American Society of Appraisers.

David has given presentations to entrepreneurs at TVC and other forums on venture financing. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance from Santa Clara University.


Prof. David Rivkin, PhD, PE
Scientist, Entrepreneur, Professor of Business and Technology, Advisor

Prof. Rivkin is a 20 year veteran in biomedical technology and founder of several Silicon Valley and International high-tech startups in biomedical technologies. As an executive at several highly successful startups turned profitable, Prof. Rivkin bring strong business,operations and technology skills, his achievements have won him many honors and awards. Prof. Rivkin holds degrees in Chemistry, Nuclear Engineering, Applied Mathematics and Engineering Management and teaches both graduate and undergraduate students in technology and business in addition to advising firms and being on the board of directors of several in the biotechnology and instrumentation industry. Prof. Rivkin has a dual appointment with Von Epstein University (Germany, UK and USA) as Associate Professor of Physical and Life Sciences, specializing in clinical metrology, and Associate Professor of Business Sciences, specializing in BioManagement and Small Business
Management/Entrepreneurship. During 2008, Prof. Rivkin is a Visiting Professor of BioManagement at International Technology University in Silicon Valley, where he teaches Clinical Trials Management.

As the former CTO of SciEssence Intl, a global scientific instrumentation and nanotechnology firm and Technical Director of GCPI, a contract R&D firm specializing in instrumentation and medical device technologies, Prof. Rivkin brings real world expertise to the firms he advises. He is well known for his work with distributed engineering based firms and the infrastructure necessary for small firms to manage their operations, especially in highly regulated fields such as medical devices and instrumentation. Prof. Rivkin provides advice and assistance from business strategy to infrastructure, from technology development to intellectual property assessment.

Prof. Rivkin volunteers his time to many industry societies and chairs several including nanotechnology standards bodies. He is also an IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Distinguished Lecturer.

Brett Sargent
Business Executive, Senior Vice President & General Manager, MBA

Brett Sargent has over 20 years’ experience as in various managerial and executive roles ranging from engineering, global sales, marketing, product management, supply chain, quality and manufacturing with such companies as Dupont, Lockheed Martin, General Electric and Exelon Nuclear. Most recently Brett is Vice President/General Manager and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at LumaSense Technologies leading all product development, product management, application engineering, design engineering and marketing for this sensor solution company based in Silicon Valley. Prior to this position, Brett was Vice President of Sales at LumaSense Technologies for 5 years and also held the position of Global Sales Segment Leader at General Electric of its $500M+ Transmission & Distribution Products segment.

Brett has a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Widener University, Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MBA in International Business from Georgia State University. Brett is also a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. Brett is also an active member of IEEE, American Nuclear Society, Cigre and National Association of Corporate Directors. He has been published in numerous articles related to strategic selling and marketing and Smart Grid strategy and deployment.




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