Google (GOOG) has begun making VC-style investments to the tune of about $500,000 or less in promising startups, often buying those companies afterward, according to partners at Silicon Valley VC firms who spoke on condition of anonymity. In an effort to keep spotting promising deals, Google has been hiring a stable of finance pros. And it has invested more than $1 million in a Mumbai-based investment firm called Seedfund to gain access to technology such as automatic translation software that could help spur growth in India.
Beating VCs to the Punch
By staking startups, Google hopes to avoid paying the higher prices companies can fetch once they take funding from traditional VCs. It’s possible that some of its investments are conditioned on Google having first-acquisition rights should a target opt to sell, some VCs speculate. Google didn’t respond to calls requesting comment. Making investments in startups also can help Google use more of its $4.5 billion in cash to cultivate tools that complement existing products. Google recently started a program called Gadget Ventures to fund entrepreneurs who build online tools using Google’s technology.
VCs Seek Alternative Sources
The incursions don’t sit well with many VCs. Combined with the predilection on the part of many entrepreneurs to fund their own ventures, investments by Google and other corporations leave even fewer opportunities for VCs to take big, early stakes. That’s especially problematic when venture firms have raised record amounts of cash and need to find places to invest it (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/5/07, “Venture Capital’s Growing Aspirations”).
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