Our team is made up of experienced investors with significant track records of entrepreneurial and operational success. We work closely with founders to support them in building truly great companies. We’ve been there ourselves and know that a team-based approach delivers the best results.

Illuminate’s investment team is deeply integrated in the high tech community where we have longstanding relationships of trust with successful entrepreneurs and co-investors. We've helped build companies from the ground up through successful IPO and M&A exits as investors, advisers and as operating managers. Our experience across the enterprise software category is broad - including SaaS business applications, cloud computing infrastructure, data analytics, security, IIoT, technology enabled services and mobile and wireless solutions.

Our co-investors include some of the best VCs and corporate investors in the world - in firms like Battery Ventures, First Round Capital, Foundation Capital, Insight Venture Partners, Intel Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Safeguard Scientifics,, Sequoia Capital, SoftBank and Trinity Ventures.

Cindy Padnos

Leveraging 25 years of high tech industry experience, Cindy Padnos is the founder and Managing Partner of Illuminate Ventures. She focuses primarily in the Enterprise/B2B cloud and mobile computing sectors, with a particular emphasis on SaaS applications and platforms, solutions  leveraging big data for business impact and new business models that accelerate customer acquisition. Cindy serves as a board director or observer for Allocadia, Bedrock Analytics, BrightEdge, ChannelEyes, Hoopla Software, Peerlyst, Xactly and Yozio.

Cindy has been an active member of the venture capital community for more than 10 years and has helped raise and deploy $100's of millions in venture financing for early stage tech companies. Prior to founding Illuminate in 2009, she was one of three investment professionals at Outlook Ventures responsible for committing the firm’s $140 million fund. Cindy sourced and led investments in companies in the IT infrastructure, enterprise software/SaaS and mobile application spaces.

Cindy has developed a unique and widely recognized set of skills in the Enterprise cloud computing space as a result of her prior experience as an operator, adviser and angel investor. As a serial entrepreneur, she helped deliver successful outcomes for several venture-backed start-ups. She was founder and CEO of Vivant, (acquired by EVLV/ORCL) one of the earliest on-demand/SaaS companies, president & CEO for Acumen (private M&A) and vice president of marketing at Scopus Technology (IPO/then acquired ORCL). She also held senior management positions at IDE, Ingres and at AT&T. Early in her career Cindy developed her market assessment skills and love of tech innovation as a management consultant in the IT practices of Arthur D. Little and Booz, Allen.

Cindy received her MSIA/MBA, with honors, from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and her AB, magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan. She is currently an adviser to Astia, the Tepper School of Business and CMU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Cindy has been named one of the Most Influential Women in Silicon Valley (The New York Times), was selected as one of the Most Influential Women in Technology (Fast Company) and as A Power Player in the Cloud (AlwaysOn).


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Ben Bayat

Ben Bayat brings more than a dozen years of experience in high-tech product design, engineering management, business development, and sales to his role as a member of the investing team with Illuminate. Ben focuses on originating, evaluating, and managing Illuminate’s enterprise SaaS investments.

Prior to joining Illuminate, Ben was the head of West Coast sales for IBM’s networking accounts, where he led his division to two consecutive Sales Eminence awards. As IBM’s site executive in Nagasaki, Japan, Ben led the joint development of Sony’s Playstation 3 microprocessor, earning the CEO-selected Gerstner Award for Client Excellence. Previously, as an aspiring entrepreneur, Ben was a part of two startup founding teams where he learned the challenges of matching product vision with market realities. Ben earned his MBA from the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Physics and Electrical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University.


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Jim Dai

For the past three decades, Jim has held executive management positions in companies such as Coupang, DemandTec and Oracle. His area of responsibilities covered engineering, product management, Information Security, IT and business development.  Jim's focus has been building analytic platforms/applications leveraging big data and predictive science.  Jim was the CEO/founder of CalmSea Inc, one of the first portfolio companies of Illuminate Ventures. 

As a Venture Partner with the firm, Jim provides insights and advice to the portfolio companies as well as participates in deal sourcing and closing process.  Jim has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in Management Science from Stanford.


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Rebecca Norlander

Rebecca Norlander joined Illuminate Ventures as a Business Advisory Council member in 2009 when she was a GM at Microsoft. In 2010, following a nearly 20 year tour as one of the top woman “geeks” at Microsoft – in roles ranging from product developer – to technical strategist to the CTO - Rebecca was ready to jump into something more entrepreneurial and joined Illuminate as an Executive-in-Residence.

Currently, Rebecca serves as a Venture Partner with the firm. She assists with new investment evaluations, works actively to help accelerate the progress of selected portfolio companies and shares significant new deal flow with the firm - emphasizing startups in the Pacific Northwest. Having caught the entrepreneurial bug, Rebecca is also now a co-founder of a successful healthcare-related software company, Health 123.  Rebecca earned her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Boston University, where she was the first alumna granted their Distinguished Alumnai Award and is an active adviser to several early-stage companies.


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Cliff Higgerson

Cliff Higgerson leverages his more than 35 years of experience in research, consulting, planning, and venture investing as a Special Adviser with Illuminate. Combining the market insight of an analyst with a keen ability to identify blockbuster technologies early in their development, Cliff has backed some of the most successful companies in the communications and information technology industries.

Cliff’s recent investments and board seats include CaféX Communications, Hatteras Networks, Kotura, World of Good, Xtera Communications and Ygnition. Prior investments include such industry leaders as America Online; Ciena (CIEN); Digital Island (acquired by Cable & Wireless); Stratex Networks (STXN); Tellabs (TLAB) and MCI (MCIP).

Cliff was a founding partner of ComVentures and with Vanguard Venture Partners. He also served as a managing partner and Director of Research for Hambrecht & Quist and as a special limited partner and Director for L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin. He holds an MBA from UC Berkeley, and a BS from the University of Illinois.


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Student In Residence Team

Nathan Pitzer - CMU MBA Candidate 


The Interns

AJ Jindal –UC Berkeley MBA Candidate

Kaushik Raha – Wharton MBA Candidate

Kavitha Gowda –Wharton MBA Candidate

Frank Bunger – UC Berkeley MBA Candidate