As reported first by Axios and then Tech Crunch, Google is doubling down on its ability to invest in artificial intelligence. Alphabet recently announced an AI-first strategy at Google I/O. Now, it's reportedly building out a group of investors that will invest exclusively in AI. It's the first time Google has made a move to invest in an exclusive branch of technology. Google hasn't confirmed or denied the news, but a business unit that invests exclusively in AI makes sense for Google right now for a number of reasons:
· A lean team of engineers can invest in the venture frontier more effectively than a larger, classic corporate venture unit. GV, Alphabet's corporate venture arm, has over 300 investments like Nest, Ionic Security, Uber, and 23&Me. That's not only a large portfolio to manage, it's also a broad mandate that spans consumer goods to life sciences. Artificial intelligence is a hot space for the entire venture capital community. Over a billion dollars were invested in AI last year. Just take a look at key artificial intelligence deals to get a sense of the scope. So having a group that focuses on it specifically? Smart.
· Google will reportedly empower its AI investors to write smaller checks than those from GV. Specifically, checks from $1 to $10 million--exactly the size in short supply for many seeking first time funding. The two competing strategies playing out this year in venture capital are go big or go bold, and this is one way Google can go bold. This can potentially seed more startups as Google dials down its seed round size to a more approachable first check for founders globally.
· This comes at a terrific time for entrepreneurs building AI. It's not that long ago that Google open-sourced its proprietary AI learning platform, TensorFlow, which kickstarted a wave of building on the free platform. Their latest news about their new AI learning-optimized chip, the TPU, rentable as needed, is also a boon for founders building out AI.
According to Axois, Google VP of Engineering and AI Anna Patterson will lead the new investments in AI. She's a dyed-in-the-wool engineer who's stayed close to the forefront of tech since she first programmed punch cards in high school. You can hear Anna's candid voice in this YouTube video from a few years ago.
Some of her accomplishments include architecting Tera Google, the large search index in 2006, for which she won a Google Founder's Award. It made search 50 times cheaper per document. She helped scale Android from 40 million users to over a billion. Not only is she accomplished as a technical leader, she's an active advocate of inclusion in the work place as Global Co-Chair of Women@Google, the 9000-member Google women's group and co-founder of Progressive Women of Silicon Valley.
"I love to learn new things," said Patterson recently in an interview given to the Anita Borg Institute. "One of the things I'm well known for, is I say all the things. I say all the things, and give just very straight-shooter advice."
If indeed Patterson is leading the new AI venture arm of Google, it's a also a clear signal that Google is looking for technical, revenue-oriented, value-driven AI startups that aren't from the mainstream. While Patterson has recently done research at Stanford, she earned her B.S. in Computer Science from Washington University and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Tess Townsend at Recode wrote, "Where the new investment seems to differ most from Google's existing investing groups is that it's led by engineers, not venture capitalists."