The WSJ is reporting that Google is set to launch a venture fund to give it the option of investing in startups instead of just flat out buying them. The fund will be led by Google's SVP Corporate Development David Drummond and Bill Maris, a long time business friend of Anne Wojcicki, Sergey Brin's wife. Maris is a tech entrepreneur with a degree in neuroscience and worked with Wojcicki at a San Francisco-based for-profit company called Catalytic Health.
This hasn't been confirmed by Google, and it's clear they've been thinking about a fund off and on for years. From the article:
The move would make Google the latest technology giant to take on a more-formal role in seeding start-ups. Intel Corp. has had a large venture-capital arm for years, as have Motorola Inc., Comcast Corp. and many others. In the consumer-Internet area, Walt Disney Co.'s Steamboat Ventures has invested in a number of Web start-ups. So has Amazon.com Inc., which has funded a number of young companies without structuring a formal fund.
Their track records have been mixed. Corporate venture-capital arms have been hampered by challenges that traditional venture-capital businesses don't face. Venture capitalists invest in private start-ups at an early stage, usually in hopes of a big payout if the company is sold or if its stock goes public.
Many start-ups fear that taking corporate money limits their options and comes with strings that could turn away other potential investors - such as a right to buy the company at a later date. Some funds with less competitive compensation have struggled to retain managers, and corporate venture funds often don't allow senior employees to invest personal money in their funds, while other venture funds typically do.
This wouldn't be the first time Google started a fund to invest in other companies. In June 2007 they launched Gadget Ventures, a pilot program that, in part, invests seed money in companies looking to develop for the gadgets platform. They have also previously invested through Indian VCs.