NET WORTH: $1.93 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Early investor in Google, executive at Netscape and Amazon. Started his own VC firm Sherpalo
FUNDING AREAS: Education, Research
OVERVIEW: Ram Shriram is one of the unsung heroes of the Silicon Valley explosion, deeply involved since the early 1980s as a leader and investor in some highly influential startups. Now head of his own venture capital firm, Sherpalo, he dedicates a lot of time and wealth on philanthropy, as a trustee and major donor to Stanford, and a funder of education nonprofits in India. His wife Vijay Shriram is also heavily involved in Stanford’s early education efforts.
BACKGROUND: Shriram comes from humble beginnings, growing up in the Indian port city of Chennai, where he studied at the University of Madras in India. Before he moved to the U.S., Shriram started working in tech at Bell-Northern Research, a digital telecommunications pioneer, and his job eventually brought him to Silicon Valley in 1983. In 1994, he became a vice president at Netscape before it sold to AOL. He later became president of Junglee, a search engine that specialized in e-commerce, before it sold to Amazon. Shriram later served as Vice Presidnet of Business Development at Amazon, working for Jeff Bezos.
While Shriram may lack the name recognition of Page and Brin, he is something of a legend in Silicon Valley for taking a chance on the two before their company was even called Google. Shriram invested half a million in the young programmers, one of their first major investors. He’s still a board member of Google, and his early stock holdings have made him wealthy. He has been a Director of Google Inc. since September 1998 and Alphabet Inc., since October, 2015.
In 2000, he left Amazon to start his own venture capital firm, Sherpalo (the name a combination of sherpa and Palo Alto), which backs companies like StumbleUpon, Paperless Post and Zazzle.
PHILOSOPHY: Known for his ability to spot and cultivate young talent in his business life, Ram Shriram is all about giving others the opportunities he had, and fostering future breakthroughs.
He told the Hindu Business Line that he only funds nonprofits which, "result in direct benefit with a quick result to the end-beneficiary, which is, of course, a lot to ask for and doesn't always happen.” Shriram is also interested in early education, "If you take a single child out of poverty in a family where nobody has gone to school or college, you can change the trajectory for that child and the entire household, the entire family and its future generations."
EDUCATION: One of Shriram’s biggest interests is education, particularly in India. He has been a supporter of Magic Bus, which engages marginalized children in India to mainstream education. He has also backed Roshni, a nonprofit based in Dehli that helps Muslim girls get an education. He backed web-based learning projects such as Gooru and the TED Fellows program, which he brought to India. While he’s a supporter of Internet learning, he said that expectations are often too high for how much it can improve education.
Ram and Vijay Shriram are also very involved in education efforts at Stanford, where Ram is a trustee and Vijay sits on boards and advisory councils. They have funded the Shriram Family Professorship in Science Education and the Shriram Family Fellowship in Science Education, both in the Graduate School of Education. They also have given to The Stanford Fund for Undergraduate Education and other annual funds.
While Shriram didn’t attend Stanford himself, he’s heavily invested in the school, as both of his daughters attended. He also considers that his success in Silicon Valley is largely due to people who were educated at the school, including Page and Brin.
RESEARCH: One of the couple’s most notable recent gifts was a $57 million donation to Stanford to fund the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering. The building will house the university’s bioengineering and chemical engineering departments and encourage more interdisciplinary work to foster breakthroughs in applications like medicine and energy. The building is part of an 8.2-acre quad of new science and engineering facilities at the school.
Along with the gift for the new building, the couple gave another $4 million to endow the department head of bioengineering. The Stanford Department of Bioengineering helps combine the tools of engineering with medicine and life sciences.
LOOKING FORWARD: Shriram wants to make his next early bet on a tech product startup in India.
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