The Silicon Valley Kingmaker Behind That Big Stanford Gift

Kavitark “Ram” Shriram was a founding board member and early investor in Google, and an exec in the fledgling days of both Netscape and Amazon. Known for spotting and nurturing young talent, Shriram and family are now highly involved in that Bay Area genius factory known as Stanford, evidenced by a recent massive gift.

Ram Shriram and wife Vidjealatchoumy "Vijay" recently announced $57 million toward construction of what will be known as the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering, and another $4 million toward an endowed chair of the bioengineering department. While not an alum himself, the gifts are part of a family wide dedication to the university, as Ram Shriram is a Stanford trustee, Vijay Shriram is a member of the advisory council at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and serves on the board of directors of Stanford's public charter school, East Palo Alto Academy. 

They’ve endowed multiple professorships and fellowships at the university, donated to annual funds, and both of the Shriram daughters are now alumni. Phew. Cut the Shrirams, and they bleed red. You know what I mean. 

As for why Stanford, Ram Shriram has said in an interview that he feels he owes a lot of his financial success to the work of former students of the institution, including Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Shriram's biggest claim to fame (and wealth) is being one of the first investors in Google, before it was even Google, and just a project of a couple of young PhD students from the university. He cut Page and Brin a check for half a million, and since then has been a board member and shareholder.

But he's been involved in a number of early Silicon Valley success stories. He was on board as a vice-president early on with Netscape before it sold to AOL, and started his own e-commerce search engine before it sold to Amazon, after which he went to work with Jeff Bezos as a VP with the company. 

He now oversees his own venture capital firm Sherpalo (as in, a sherpa of Palo Alto), and sits on the boards of other tech startups. He’s estimated to be worth $1.9 billion

Aside from his giving to Stanford, Shriram is very involved in philanthropy in his home country India. From humble beginnings, born in the port city of Chennai, much of his attention is focused on Indian nonprofits providing education to marginalized youth.

The Stanford gift is part of a major investment in science and engineering at the school, the formation of an 8.2-acre quad of buildings to house work in the fields. The Shriram gift, specifically, will provide a new shared home for chemical engineering and bioengineering departments. Chemical engineering exists in an aging building, and bioengineering is a relatively new department that will be able to expand its undergrad program with the new building. 

Read more about Shriram at our IP profile, and more about Stanford's many other large donors here.