Nov 9, 2023

Get to know Tony Cusato

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

Meet Tony Cusato: a blend of technologist, leader, and mentor with over 39 years at IBM, translating complex cybersecurity and technological frameworks into safe, effective business practices – has become a beacon of cybersecurity and technological excellence and innovation within the industry. Passionate about building trust and leading teams through emotional connectivity. Tony dedicates himself to harnessing a growth mindset and emotional & positive intelligence in driving impactful business results and outcomes. From providing cybersecurity solutions within IBM’s CISO execution arm, to acting as the technical backbone for globally renowned events like the 1998 Winter and 2000 Summer Olympic games, his journey underscores a dedication to both meticulous technical implementation and fostering sustainable human relations. Tony also helped launch PS27 Ventures and is their Senior Technology and security Advisor, where he propels entrepreneurs to scale their groundbreaking ideas, ensuring their technological and security strategies are not only robust but also foresightful. Tony was also the acting CIO at the Open Invention Network in support of Open Source software. Tony is embedded with not just technical, and strategic aptitude but also human-centric leadership.

Tony Cusato and Alice Vilma at Morgan Stanley Demo Day

Tell us about your work at PS27 and why you love the company.

My work at PS27 encompasses five main responsibilities:

For the startups, I am the:

1 – Technology advisor

2 – Security advisor 

3 – Portfolio companies’ mentor or coach, as needed to advise on situations of technical & security-related decisions as well as growth challenges of hiring the right talent as an example

For PS27:

4 – I act in the capacity of our CIO & CISO, responsible for all matters related to how PS27 applies technology to run our business and matters of security – both cybersecurity for technology and on-premise-related security as well.

5 – When we consider companies to invest in, part of our process is the technology and security due diligence.  I perform this work to understand the technology behind the company’s idea and their practices on security for their technology and their company as a whole.

I can break down why I love being at PS27 in two aspects. 

First, this is absolutely one of the greatest teams I have had the pleasure to be part of in my career.  The loyalty to each team member and to their personal success is absolutely solid.  Every team member has earned the respect of and from each other, which allows us to exercise honesty to build the cornerstone of any relationship – trust.  Because we have an highly efficient running trust engine, the cost of doing business is low, and the speed at which we work at is fast.  All because of that trust, we collaborate openly and take intelligent risks, advancing positive business outcomes.

Second, I personally love growing teams to be successful, and these teams are companies that are contributing positively to our world with their ideas and services.  We choose our portfolio companies very carefully, and if we can guide them to success, then they will help people in our world with what they offer as a company.

Tony Cusato and Hurdle Health at PS27 Leadership Week 2019

Favorite moment in the innovation ecosystem so far?

I love seeing the moments of any “WIN” in the startup lifecycle.  From the early wins to the bigger wins, they are the fuel cells that inspire, feed, and energize the “grit” that is needed to persevere to success in the startup world. 

The joy on the smiles and in the hearts of the founders, the relief of achieving a major milestone, the realization of what was before told to them, “not going to work, that’s impossible,” actually come to life and bring value to whoever consumes it.

Other greatest moments for me are when these companies receive the funding they need to take their company to the next stage.  Typically, these companies have a product or service that is generating a profit for them, but when we work with them to refine their business models or help them launch a new product or idea, and it generates even more profit for the company, that is the greatest milestone for them.  Of course, positive feedback from the customers, leading them to winning industry awards is a great memory as well.

Advice for young professionals hoping to get involved in venture capital?

Yes, get involved to understand what the startup world is about and how it works.

For a few hours a week, apply your skills and volunteer at:

1 – Any startup

2 – Any incubator

3 – Any Startup group/club/guild at your school

4 – Seek out podcasts on Venture Capital and network with them through social media like Linkedin and others

5 – Identify if there is a certain discipline on VC that interests you, then reach out to those thought leaders via social media

While you are involved in understanding the startup world, build relationships with everyone, from founders to investors in the VC world.

While you are involved with this VC world, hone in on what interests you so you can gain relevant experience, go after it, and get it under your belt.  It is really important that you gain the skills and know-how for what you want to do in the VC world.

Also, the world changes fast, so stay current with the news in the VC world and the news in your industry segment.  Follow people that you are drawn to and have influence.

Tony Cusato with PS27 Portfolio Company OnPay Solutions (Exited)

Advice for founders raising capital?

When you are about to start raising capital, do your homework on what capital raising means, how it works and what “terms” are and how they work.

Know how much you will need and where you will spend it – do as great of a job understanding your company’s business valuation and don’t get greedy – try to get that right, or as close to right as you can – it will support the professional character of your company. 

Make sure your team (the whole team) is ready. Raising capital is a full-time job. 

Yes, cash is king, but do not forget to delight your customers – investors will want to talk with them and talk to many, and some that you may not have selected for them to talk to. Make sure your documentation and financials are ready at a moment’s notice – you never know when you will need to pitch, and make sure you have your pitch down to a “storytelling” mode also, very important, to make sure you know the financials cold. In the final analysis, people – (the human aspect) are a major part of raising money.  Nurture these investor relationships – build trust with them immediately and constantly. This needs to be a priority. Lastly, send us your pitch deck.

What’s the best thing startups can do to help build the innovation ecosystem, and why should they do it? What’s the benefit for all?

Be open-minded! 
Your company may be a great start, but partnering with a different startup could be a game changer for your startup – that collaboration with a different startup could help catapult your company ahead of other competitors.  Mentoring other startups is a positive way to give back to the ecosystem and build new relationships, but also underscore the things you learned and reinforce them for your company.

Getting involved with an incubator or an accelerator is a great way to get the guidance and resources you need to get to that next level.

By embracing change and exploring new possibilities with other startups and accelerators, startups can contribute positively to the growth and development of the innovation ecosystem.

Connect with Tony Cusato on LinkedIn.

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