Startups Money

SoftBank Capital closes $250M PrinceVille Fund to help tech startups expand into Asia

8 Feb, 2013

SoftBank Capital, a venture group affiliated with SoftBank Corp, a Japan-based telecommunications, internet and media conglomerate, has closed its $250 million PrinceVille Fund to help growth-stage technology startups expand into the Asian market.

Other investors in the fund include China's Alibaba Group and Yahoo Japan. Alibaba and MediaTek, Inc., a fabless semiconductor company based in Taiwan, through their affiliates, are also limited partners and members of the advisory committee of the fund.

According to SoftBank Capital, Asia offers a mature mobile market with an opportunity to monetise millions of new customers who are seeing rising income. In addition, consumer spending is also growing at much faster rates than in other parts of the world. But while markets like Japan and China are attractive to western companies, they are often difficult to crack since the foreign companies may lack the necessary expertise to compete there.

The new fund will look to make early and growth-stage investments in companies operating in sectors like consumer and enterprise mobile, online advertising, e-commerce, social media and cloud computing.

According to Ron Fisher, managing partner of SoftBank Capital, the PrinceVille Fund has been launched as a complement to its early-stage investment efforts. "SoftBank Capital now has the capacity to partner with technology companies and entrepreneurs at all stages of their life cycle," he said.

In connection with the fund launch, three new executives have also joined SoftBank Capital's investment team. They are Kabir Misra, managing partner at SoftBank Capital and president/CEO of SB China and India Holdings, which manages Bodhi Investments LLC (a venture fund focused on early-stage technology investments in Asia and the US); Scarlett O'Sullivan, principal and lead for US investments for Bodhi Investments LLC, and Matt Krna, principal at SoftBank Capital.

"SoftBank-related companies like SoftBank Mobile, Yahoo Japan and Alibaba are often the ideal partners for companies looking to accelerate their market presence in the region and we are the only fund investing in these sectors with deep connections to all those companies," said Steve Murray, partner at SoftBank Capital.

Over the past few years, SoftBank Capital has made a number of successful exits from its portfolio including Buddy Media (acquired by Salesforce.com), Hyperpublic (acquired by Groupon), Huffington Post (acquired by AOL), ZipList (acquired by Condé Nast) and OMGPOP (acquired by Zynga).

In September 2012, SoftBank, along with telecom firm SingTel, bought  One97 Mobility Fund's stake in Singapore-based mobile social gaming platform TheMobileGamer (TMG). The deal involved stake sale by existing shareholders of TMG and a fresh issue of shares to SoftBank and SingTel, after which each would hold 41.08 per cent stake.

But one of its biggest investments in India (in terms of size) included the $200 million infusion into Bangalore-based mobile ad network InMobi in September 2011.

In October 2011, SoftBank Corp. had also formed a 50:50 joint venture called Bharti SoftBank Holdings Pte Ltd (BSB) with Bharti Enterprises, the business group behind telecommunications firm Bharti Airtel Ltd, to focus on the mobile internet business in India.

BSB partnered with Gurgaon-based mobile startup Y2CF Digital Media Pvt Ltd in May 2012 to launch Hoppr, a location based check-in service that works across all mobile devices. Post that, it launched Hike, a peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging app that uses both data and SMS to deliver messages. BSB also tied up with Yahoo Japan Corporation to develop a mobile Internet portal focused on the Indian mobile market. The companies formed a JV called BSY Pte Ltd for this purpose.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)