Having gone from 16 acquisitions in 2007 to two in 2008 and none so far in 2009, Google has changed its focus from buying startups to funding them.
On Tuesday, Google launched Google Ventures, a venture capital fund that aims to promote the growth of new businesses in various sectors, including consumer Internet, software, hardware, clean tech, bio-tech, and health care.
Google's VC arm is looking to invest amounts that range from seed funding to millions of dollars, depending upon the needs of the business. The fund reportedly has about $100 million to spend.
"This is Google's effort to take advantage of our resources to support innovation and encourage promising new technology companies," said Google Ventures managing partners Bill Maris and Rich Miner in a blog post. "By borrowing the best practices of top-tier, financially focused venture capital firms and bringing to bear Google's unique technical expertise and brand, we think we can find young companies with truly awesome potential and encourage their development into successful businesses."
The debut of Google Ventures was not entirely unexpected. At a conference for startups earlier this month, Miner was spotted wearing a name tag that said "Google Ventures."
Miner previously led Google's Android development effort. It's not clear whether his involvement in Google Ventures suggests a particular focus on mobile-oriented startups.
While acknowledging that the economic situation at the moment is tough, Maris and Miner observe that great ideas happen all the time and that the downturn is an ideal time to find "the next big thing."
Previously, Google invested in tech companies through its philanthropic arm, Google.org.
Google.org was reorganized in February when Dr. Larry Brilliant handed the reins to Megan Smith, who took over as Google.org's general manager. In announcing his new position as Google's chief philanthropic evangelist, Brilliant said that one of the goals of the transition was to align Google.org more closely with Google's strength in information and technology.
Similarly, Google Ventures aims to leverage the depth of technical expertise at Google to direct its investment decisions. While Google Ventures is focused more on making money than on synergy with Google's goals, Maris told Dow Jones that the fund would be governed by Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto.
In venture capital terms, that may be presumed to mean "Don't Fund Evil." And so far, so good: One of the first companies to receive funding from Google Ventures, Silver Spring Networks, is developing feel-good green networking technology to bring about the much-ballyhooed "smart" energy grid.
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