Cynthia B. Padnos, Founding Managing Director , Illuminate Ventures, Oakland , California



Cynthia B. Padnos, Founding Managing Director , Illuminate Ventures spoke to YourStory about the investment firm and the vision and their portfolio.

Illuminate Ventures is an early stage VC firm led by a team of experienced investors with significant operating and investment track records. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the firm is targeting US-based high growth, capital efficient companies in selected sectors within the high-tech landscape.

Illuminate Ventures is different – they don’t rely on “pattern recognition” or following the herd. They seek new and innovative business ideas led by committed, talented and diverse teams, particularly those that are inclusive of women entrepreneurs. They feel that great investment opportunities come in a variety of packages - sometimes looking a bit different from the norm.

Cindy Padnos is the founding Managing Director of Illuminate Ventures, focusing primarily on Internet, SaaS/cloud computing, digital media, technology-enabled services and mobile communications investments. Cindy currently serves as a director of privately held companies BrightEdge, CalmSea, Wild Pockets and Xactly Corporation.

Prior to founding Illuminate, Cindy was a Director of Outlook Ventures where she was one of three investment professionals responsible for committing the firm’s $140M fund.

During her tenure with the firm she participated in numerous new and follow-on financings, including sourcing more than half of the firm’s new investments. Cindy took an active role within the firm and the portfolio – codifying the firm’s investment sector thesis, establishing a CMO knowledge exchange between portfolio companies and facilitating Outlook’s annual investor meeting. Immediately before joining Outlook, Cindy’s long-standing relationships within the VC ecosystem allowed her to “apprentice” in the industry as a venture consultant, working with several top-tier venture capital firms and their portfolios. Her work ranged from interim CEO assignments to new investment due diligence.

Before entering the venture capital community Cindy gained almost 20 years of operational experience culminating in her role as founder and CEO of Vivant, an innovative SaaS company, where she successfully led this venture-backed company to its acquisition (EVLV).

Prior positions include roles as President and CEO of Acumen (M&A), founding vice president of marketing at Scopus Technology (IPO) and management positions at IDE, Ingres and AT&T. Earlier in her career Cindy also served as a management consultant with Arthur D. Little and Booz, Allen & Hamilton where she worked closely with executive teams in both large and small companies across the tech sector focusing on sales acceleration, new business spin-outs and go-to-market strategies.

Cindy earned her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, at the University of Michigan and her MBA/MSIA with honors from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. She serves on the Board of Advisors for the Tepper School and for Astia. Cindy is a member of SpringBoard Enterprises, FWE&E, Women 2.0 and is active in a number of other organizations that support entrepreneurship.


Illuminate’s “proof-of-concept” investments represent a cross-section of high-tech sectors and stages of business development – from Internet Advertising to SaaS applications – led by strong, entrepreneurial teams and leveraging next generation technologies and services


New research shows what many have long suspected: women entrepreneurs are poised to lead the next wave of growth in global technology ventures.  The full report, prepared by Illuminate Ventures, documents the performance of women entrepreneurs in the past decade and the trends that are propelling them towards critical mass in the high-tech sector. Please register to receive the full 15-page paper.

  • Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency: The high-tech companies women build are more capital-efficient than the norm. The average venture-backed company run by a woman had achieved comparable early-year revenues, using an average of one-third less committed capital.
  • Big Progress in Recent Times: More women are serving as officers of venture-backed companies with successful exits. In 1988, only 4% of the 134 firms that went public in the U.S. had women in top management positions. Of 2009’s 19 high-tech IPOs, all but two had at least one woman officer.
  • Fewer Failures: Despite often being capital-constrained, women-owned businesses are more likely to survive the transition from raw start-up to established company than the average.
  • Expanded IP Contributions: From 1985 to 2005, the annual number of U.S. female-invented fractional software patents increased 45-fold – three times the average growth rate in that sector.
  • Growing Influence in Tech: Women-owned or led firms are the fastest growing sector of new venture creation in the U.S., growing at five times the rate of all new firms between 1997 and 2006 – now representing nearly 50% of all privately held businesses.
  • Venture-level Returns: In the past 10 years more than 125 companies with over 200 women co-founders or officers have achieved IPOs or >$50M M&A exits in the U.S. high-tech sector alone.
  • Diversity Improves Performance: Organizations that are the most inclusive of women in top management achieve 35% higher ROE and 34% better total return to shareholders versus their peers – and research shows gender diversity to be particularly valuable where innovation is key.
  • Financial Bottleneck: $1M+ woman led companies are twice as likely as those led by men to gain debt versus equity capital. In 2008 woman co-founded tech businesses gained less than 10% of venture investment in the high-tech sector while representing 30% of the workforce.
  • Impact of Women Investors: Women now represent just over 15 percent of angel investors, but just 5%-7% of partner-level high-tech venture capital investors in the U.S. Firms with women investment partners are 70 percent more likely to lead an investment in a woman entrepreneur than those with only male partners.

The bottom line: More than ever before, women are influencing the face of business. They are on the cusp of becoming a leading entrepreneurial force in technology. As the global economy regenerates, new business models are needed to stimulate economic and job growth. Investors seeking to reinvigorate bottom-line performance and to favorably impact the entrepreneurial strength of our economy would be wise to support strategies that enable high-tech start-ups that are inclusive of women entrepreneurs.

To download the complete whitepaper and find out more about Illuminate Ventures visit