New Microsoft Ventures Blends Investing, Accelerator Projects

Microsoft is combining several of its startup-focused projects under a new name, with a more unified approach.

The new project, Microsoft Ventures, is a mashup of things the Redmond, WA-based company (NASDAQ: MSFT) has already been doing: startup accelerator programs, early stage investing, and services and support for startups.

It’s probably no coincidence that Microsoft announced the new, larger startup program on Tuesday, just before the start of its annual Build developer conference. But the change also reflects the increasingly active role that corporate venture arms have played in financing young companies.

Microsoft’s latest startup investment project got started in earnest about a year ago with the debut of the Bing Fund, an early stage investment vehicle that planned to issue convertible debt in the range of $50,000 to $100,000.

The Bing Fund was headed by Rahul Sood, a former PC gaming entrepreneur who sold his company VoodooPC to Hewlett-Packard before joining Microsoft in 2010. The fund made investments in at least a half-dozen companies, including mobile app developer service Buddy, location-based consumer app Sonar, and BuzzTable, a startup making apps for restaurants.

In a blog post today, Sood says the newly branded Microsoft Ventures will have more cash behind it than the Bing Fund (although no figures are discussed). It also will combine partnerships with outside startup-support communities and Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which offers free and discounted software to startups.

Sood also writes that Microsoft Ventures is expanding the company’s previous startup accelerator programs, adding several international locations to the current roster that includes Beijing, Paris, Tel Aviv, Seattle, and Bangalore.

Microsoft has partnered with TechStars on some previous accelerator programs—particularly the ones in Seattle, which have focused on specific Microsoft products like the Kinect sensor or Azure cloud computing. It was unclear if TechStars would have future involvement in the Microsoft Ventures versions.

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