Google VC arm to grow partner ranks

Google Ventures, the VC arm of Google Inc., plans to bring more partners onboard as the $100 million fund seeks to build upon the eight investments it has made in companies since its launch last spring.

Managing Partner Bill Maris said that the fund had quietly begun to bulk up its ranks and is in the process of refining an investment strategy that has seen Google Ventures back startups in markets as diverse as biotech, cleantech and consumer Internet technology.

“There are full-time employees in the fund that aren’t publicly disclosed right now that are recent hires,” Maris told Reuters last week. The Google Ventures website currently lists only Maris and Rich Miner as managing partners.

“Looking at the opportunity we have to invest in 2010, we just think that it will be useful to have additional partners on the team,” Miner said.

“We’re coming out of a period of serious economic downturn, that’s always a great time for creativity to flourish and innovation to flourish and people to start investing,” he said.

Miner co-founded Android, a developer of smart phone software that Google acquired in 2005 for its mobile operating system. Maris previously founded Web hosting company Miner works out of Cambridge, Mass., while Maris is based in Mountain View, Calif.

“As the team gets bigger I think we’re able to look at a broader and broader group of companies,” Maris said. And he noted that Google Ventures will be able to pick the right investment opportunities based on specific problems that the fund thinks it can best help address, rather than simply looking at broad investment sectors.

Just last week, San Francisco Internet startup VigLink announced a round of funding from Google Ventures and First Round Capital, as well as a handful of angel investors, such as Reid Hoffman, founder of social networking firm LinkedIn. The funding round totaled $800,000.

The Google Ventures investment in VigLink, which actually occurred in June but was not made public until last week, gave Miner a board seat at the company. VigLink provides a tool to help Web publishers and blogs generate revenue by connecting the hyperlinks featured in their content with affiliate programs from such sites as that pay commissions for sales leads.

Miner told Reuters in a separate interview that he also sits on the boards of two other Google Ventures portfolio companies while Maris is a director at Adimab Inc., a biotech company in which Google invested an undisclosed amount in October 2009.

Miner would not disclose how much of the $100 million the fund has invested so far. According to Miner, Google Ventures has made a total of eight investments to date, though only seven of the investments have been publicly disclosed.

Launched in early 2009, Google Ventures is wholly backed by Google, the world’s No.1 Internet search company. In-house venture funds, such as those managed by Intel Corp. and Motorola Corp., typically are designed to make strategic investments that may feed the company new ideas. However, Miner said the stated goal of Google Ventures is to seek investment opportunities to maximize returns rather than looking for investments that strictly fit with the corporate parent’s strategic vision.

The fund has also invested in Pixazza Inc., a photo-based online marketing service, and Silver Spring Networks, a company that uses technology to improve the efficiency of power grids.

Google has also invested in other companies in the past through its philanthropic division,, such as Sausalito, Calif.-based AltaRock Energy Inc., a developer of geothermal technology, and Potter Drilling Inc., a Redwood City, Calif.-based company that is developing a hard rock drilling technology.

While may continue to make investments from time to time, Google Ventures is the company’s primary vehicle” for making venture-style investments.