George Ugras has joined IBM as managing director of IBM Ventures. That’s a big job, considering how much money IBM throws into its strategic investments.
Big Blue doesn’t disclose exactly how much it puts into investments. But the company did say that in 2015 it invested more than $13 billion in research and development, capital expansions, acquisitions, and strategic investments. IBM has put billions into cognitive analytics, cloud, mobile, security, and social. Those areas now represent 35 percent of IBM’s business and grew 22 percent in 2015.
In an exclusive interview with VentureBeat, Ugras said that IBM will continue to invest in these strategic areas.
“IBM has tremendous technology assets around cloud and cognitive technology like Watson,” he said, referring to the artificial intelligence system that beat the world’s best human Jeopardy player. “We measure our own success in IBM Ventures in our impact on the corporation.”
Ugras replaces Claudia Fan Munce, who retired from IBM and is now a venture advisor at New Enterprise Associates. Ugras said he will engage more deeply with entrepreneurs and founders of companies and listen to their ideas.
IBM has deep partnerships with Apple, LinkedIn, and Box. Ugras said you’ll see IBM do more of these kinds of partnerships. He also said there is no average deal, as IBM will engage with entrepreneurs on a wide variety of levels.
“We are open-minded in how we engage with startups,” he said.
In 2015, IBM announced 14 acquisitions (including Merge Healthcare — a $1 billion investment to help Watson “see” medical images — plus an estimated $2 billion for the digital assets of The Weather Company). And for the 23rd consecutive year, IBM led in U.S. patents earned, once again breaking the 7,000-patent threshold.
Based at IBM’s offices in San Francisco, Ugras will lead IBM Ventures, whose mission is to engage with innovators globally to enable entrepreneurial activity that is relevant to IBM. He will focus on strategic relationships that drive innovation and maximize growth tied to IBM’s strategic imperatives.
Kevin Reardon, IBM’s vice president of corporate development, said in a statement, “George will be a valued member of IBM’s Venture organizations, bringing years of expertise in strategic areas such as big data, analytics and cloud. In addition to his work with the VC community, George will extend IBM’s reach into the global community of entrepreneurs and unleash new opportunities that drive growth and innovation for IBM.”
Ugras previously worked at ACM, an early stage venture fund, where he was general partner and managed investments across big data infrastructure, cloud computing, and analytics. He has lectured on entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, and Stanford and advised faculty on technology spin-offs at various universities. He also provides oversight to the Space Electronics Group at Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was a research fellow in physics at Caltech.
Regarding his predecessor, Ugras said he met her 17 years ago at a corporate venture capital gathering, back in the days when such operations were not well-respected.
“There has been a change in the traditional corporate venture fund,” he said. “Every company has one. But Claudia played a huge role in transforming the corporate venture capital industry. I give her all the credit for that.”