So the recent rumors were right — Google just officially launched its highly-anticipated venture capital fund, Google Ventures. The new entity, in the works for a while now, will invest in early-stage technology companies working on products that could further the search giant’s diverse goals.
The amount of the fund has yet to be disclosed. [Update: Google executives are now saying it to invest up to $100 million over the next 12 months. The fund will be overseen by David Drummond, who will continue in his role as senior vice president of corporate developing and chief legal officer at Google, reports the Times; actual vetting of investments will be led by Maris and Miner, as mentioned below].
In particular, it will be looking for opportunities in information technology, software, cleantech, biotech and health care, according to Google’s blog. The company also emphasizes that startups don’t necessarily need to be acquisition bait for the company to receive funds. So, it will be interesting to see how it chooses its investments, and how many of its portfolio companies will eventually be folded into the whole. “Our goal is to invest in the most promising and interesting entrepreneurial opportunities, and to build great companies, period,” it says.
As predicted, the fund is headed up by Google wireless guru Rich Miner — as indicated by a name tag at a recent Silicon Valley startup event — and investor William Maris. Miner’s central role on the team has prompted some to guess that Google Ventures will be especially interested in funding telecom and wireless companies working on technology that could advance Google’s own mobile phone products.
The venture branch says it intends to distribute funding in chunks ranging from very small seed amounts in the thousands to the tens of millions, depending on the stage of the company in question. It also says it plans to take an active advising role in its portfolio companies, working closely with management to build strong enterprises that could potentially stand on their own — though acquisition isn’t out of the question.
Apparently, the company isn’t too concerned about launching this new effort in the midst of the recession, arguing that its help is needed now more than ever to sustain innovators through tough times. But this doesn’t mean that Google will be taking any major risks in its investment choices. Not only has chief executive Eric Schmidt expressed the company’s intention to make very conservative choices in this area, the venture arm’s website states that it is only “looking for investments with the potential for significant financial return.”
To be sure, this isn’t Google’s first foray into investments. It done so for several years, in companies that it think will both forward its interests and yield a return. Google has invested both through its business-development department, which has focused more on its strategic interests, and Google.org, its philanthropic division, which somewhat ironically has actually focused on efforts that make money. Investments include wireless router company Meraki Wireless, another wireless router company Fon, a Chinese P2P company called Xunlei and British femtocell company Ubiquisys. Most recently, Google invested in Pixazza, a Mountain View, Calif., start-up that lets publishers turn pictures on their sites into advertisements by tagging them — so that when users visit the site, and scroll over the pictures, they get lots more information about the product in the image, and may be enticed into buying it.
With the appointment of Megan Smith, Google’s vice president of new business development, as also head of Google.org, these internal efforts appear to be more aligned now, as pointed out by the WSJ. The creation of Google Ventures now makes Google’s efforts look more line with what several other large corporations have done. Intel, for example, has long been the largest investor in start-ups, via its Intel Capital arm. Drummond said that some of Google’s earlier investments, for example, those made in the energy sector, would now be made by Google Ventures, while Google’s corporate development investments would continue to make investments. In fact, Google Ventures first official investments include Pixazza and Silver Spring Networks, an electric grid management company in which Google invested “several million” dollars.