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Corporate Venture Capital

March 17, 2024

At Somar, we make it a point to keep an eye on private markets, particularly growth companies doing interesting things. The same ones that tend to be favored by venture capitalists. Not only is there a possibility that these companies will go public and would therefore fall under Somar’s pervue, but if they are groundbreaking, they may be taking market share away from other companies we evaluate. In either case, the private venture-backed market is a critical input to our analysis. 

In the past few years, there has been a marked change in the makeup of venture investing, from seed stage to pre-IPO. Yes, there have been crossover and mega funds that aimed for quick exits and hefty returns by investing huge sums of money in very late stages. That worked well in the booming post-Covid market, but not so well with the 2022 valuation adjustment. But I’m referring to corporate or “strategic” venture capital. Companies taking ownership positions in promising young companies for strategic as well as financial reasons. Nowhere is this more pronounced than with Generative AI investments (see chart below). 


As most famously evidenced by Microsoft’s big bet and strategic allieance with OpenAI, Big Tech is wanting to partner with the new disruptors rather than being innovated away by sticking to the tried and true. The Innovators Dilemma, a concept I first learned from my famous business school professor, Clayton Christensen, 20 years ago. 

Benefits of Corporate Venture Capital for the investor include:

  • No fundraising; only answers to one Limited Partner

  • Returns are not the only measure of success. Getting strategic insights  about new and existing markets can be more valuable than strictly monetary gains 

  • More insight for potential joint venture or outright acquisition opportunities

  • Potential talent acquisition/acquihire opportunities

Benefits for the startup include:

  • In some cases, gaining access to proprietary corporate information for modeling and/or market fit purposes (the investor corporation has a monetary incentive to see the startup succeed).

  • Mentorship and guidance, particularly when it comes to scaling up

  • Often a reliable source for future funding rounds (if KPIs are met, of course)

In the chart above, Microsoft is represented by OpenAI and Inflection, while Amazon is represented by Anthropic. Google has its own GenAI capabilities through Gemini (aka Bard) through its acquisition of DeepMind (and its team) back in 2014. 

While Generative AI may seem like a novelty to the lay user at the moment, it is very likely that in a few years, it will be foundational to the way we gather and analyze information. Though we won’t be investing in these impressive startups directly, we will be monitoring them through their larger corporate partners to better understand where AI is heading, which in turn has repercussions in just about every industry and sector. 

It's a great time to be an investor.

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