UPDATED 02:59 EDT / MAY 22 2017


SoftBank raises a record $93 billion to invest in tech startups

Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. Sunday said its Vision Fund has almost reached its target of raising $100 billion to invest in technology startups, after closing on an initial $93 billion commitment from a number of high-profile backers.

SoftBank announced the creation of Vision Fund last year, pledging $25 billion of its own cash to the fund. Now, the company has secured the backing from a range of company’s and investment funds, including Apple Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Saudi Arabia’s government-backed Public Investment Fund, the UAE’s Mubdala Investment Company, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. and Sharp Corp. SoftBank said the fund hoped to reach its $100 billion target within the next six months thanks to commitments from other investors, Bloomberg reported.

The fund has already committed to investments of a minimum $100 million, and said it will focus on both minority and majority stakes in public and privately held companies. That leaves Vision Fund with lots of scope to back a wide array of startups in different technology markets, and should ensure it has a major say in the development of several next-generation technologies.

“Technology has the potential to address the biggest challenges and risks facing humanity today,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank, said in a statement. “The businesses working to solve these problems will require patient long-term capital and visionary strategic investment partners with the resources to nurture their success.”

The largest tech fund ever

To get an idea of just how massive the Vision Fund really is, Bloomberg estimates it will be worth almost 15 times that of Sequoia Capital, one of the most successful venture capital firms, by the time it reaches its funding goal of $100 billion. For further perspective, if the Vision Fund were a country, it would rank 63rd out of 191 in gross domestic product, just ahead of Ukraine and Ecuador. It’s a huge amount of money and by investing it into technology startups, it gives Son and his backers the potential to influence the world’s future in untold ways.

But Son doesn’t appear to be daunted by the magnitude of what he’s about to embark on. Indeed, he has already announced an impossibly ambitious 300-year plan to make SoftBank the world’s most valuable company, and he has not been shy about throwing his money around. For example, he invested a massive $5.5 billion into the China’s Uber-like ride sharing company Didi Chuxing Technology Co. just last month.

Son believes that the next generation of technologies, including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, infrastructure, telecoms, biotech and financial tech, have the potential to transform the world far more than anyone realizes, and he wants SoftBank to have a very big say in how that happens.

“We saw a big bang in PCs, we saw a big bang in the internet,” he said in an interview last February. “I believe the next big bang is going to be even bigger. To be ready for that, we need to set the foundation and that foundation is SoftBank Vision Fund.”

Vision Fund has already laid the first few foundation stones even as it chases its funding goal. The fund has already backed several startups, including Indian fintech company Paytm and virtual reality startup Improbable Worlds Ltd. There have also been unconfirmed reports of investments in companies like WeWork Companies Inc., and the more relevant question may be, “What won’t SoftBank invest in?” as the fund begins to flex its muscles.

Most likely the Vision Fund will spread its bets, at least to begin with, said Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president of Constellation Research Inc. Without giving any examples, Mueller said believes there are many undervalued technology companies around the world at present, and he said that Son could be tempted to buy into more than a few of them. Then again, he said there are just as many interesting startups that could attract his interest, especially in areas such as AI and machine learning.

“It will be interesting to see if Son will go for large, potentially even double-digit billion dollar figures, or if he will go for smaller, double-digit deals,” Mueller said. “I expect him to battle along the opportunities around digital transformation and new business models.”

Image: SoftBank

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