Now Google is looking for the 'next big thing'

IT WAS June 7, 1999, when a new tech start up 'dedicated to providing the best search experience on the web', Google, announced it had completed a $25 million round of equity funding led by two Silicon Valley venture capital firms.
Fastforward to 2009 (about 100 million years in Internet time) and the world's leading brand Google announces its own venture-capital unit to fund new technologies, Google Ventures.

The plan, according to news reports, is to invest $100 million in its first year, mostly in young companies covering a broad range of industries, including consumer internet, software, hardware, clean-tech, bio-tech and health care.

'Economically, times are tough, but great ideas come when they will. If anything, we think the current downturn is an ideal time to invest in nascent companies that have the chance to be the "next big thing", and we'll be working hard to find them,' said Rich Milner and Bill Maris, managing partners of Google Ventures in a blog post.

Miner, a co-founder of Android, the mobile start-up that Google acquired in 2005 and based its mobile platform on, had been speculated to be a part of the group after he was recently spotted at a tech conference with a name tag that read, Google Ventures. Maris, the founder of start-up, was hired by Google to help run the fund.

They plan to invest amounts ranging from seed funding to tens of millions of dollars, depending on the stage of the opportunity and the company's need for capital.

The two managing partners believe that Google's active involvement will help to create value, so they won't be just cutting a cheque and hoping for the best. They will work with management teams to maximise the impact of Google's investment as well as their technology or innovation.

And the company needn't be 'Google-focused' to make the grade. Ventures will make investment decisions independent of a company's relationship with Google. There is no requirement for portfolio companies to work with Google in any special way, although it seems it would be silly to ignore the wealth of resources on offer. Milner and Maris say their goal is to invest in the most promising and interesting, entrepreneurial opportunities, and to build great companies.

And the two confirm that Google Ventures is not a vehicle to identify acquisition prospects. Acquisitions by Google of portfolio companies are possible, but this is not the goal or focus of Google Ventures; the focus is building great companies and generating long term financial return, according to the website.

In addition there is no condition that companies use Google products and technologies, so becoming a portfolio company won't necessarily involve any strategic placement of Google products or parallel commercial agreements.

According to the New York Times, Google Ventures has already made two investments. Silver Spring Networks, a company that makes technology to help manage electric grids, and Pixazza, which links online images with related products that can be purchased, are the very first of the bright sparks Google is funding. Although the company declined to confirm the level of investment made.

Google Ventures is bound to make some people nervous. Those that worry about the colossal influence of Microsoft on the industry and on the general economy have been getting similar notions about Google for some time now. They worry about the company's overall influence on all things internet, including innovation and might see this new fund as an avenue to deepen Google's hold on the industry.

But Milner and Maris say the opposite is true: '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,' they wrote in a blog post.

Google Ventures is on the hunt for investment opportunities and would like to hear from early stage companies. Send no more than 20 slides or three pages of notes to to be considered. But beware, make sure you are fully protected. According to Google Venture's website disclaimer.

'We cannot and do not accept responsibility for protecting against the misuse or disclosure of any information unless we have expressly agreed (in writing) to do so.'

Google Highlights
1995 founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin meet at Stanford University.
1997 registered as a domain
1998 Google raises $100k in seed funding and hires first employee.
1999 Google raises $25 million in venture funding.
2001 Google is available in 26 languages and image search is introduced.
2002 Adwords introduces cost-per-click pricing and the first APIs are released
2003 is acquired and the verb 'to google' is recognised by American Dialect Society
2004 Google Local is introduced, the company files an IPO and Gmail is born.
2005/06 Dozens of Google products and applications are rolled out. Staff reaches 10k+
2007 Google partners with and GoogleApps Premier is launched.
2008 Google acquires DoubleClick, Website Optimizer comes out of beta, Search Wiki is launched


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