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SoftBank finds more love for early-stage investing

Reuters

JP Lee, CEO and Managing Partner of SoftBank Ventures Asia, poses for a photo at the company in Seoul on March 4.

ReutersSEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) — SoftBank Group Corp. has expanded its appetite for early-stage startups, with a venture capital unit set to launch its biggest fund for early investments as it opens new offices in Asia.

The global fund from newly rebranded Seoul-based SoftBank Ventures Asia will be worth as much as $500 million and could launch next month, CEO JP Lee told Reuters in an interview.

By contrast, the average size of similar funds raised last year was just over $100 million, according to data provider Preqin.

SoftBank, South Korea’s National Pension Service as well as other companies and asset management firms will provide funding, Lee said, declining to provide further details on investors.

“It’s an important signal within the SoftBank Group that SoftBank thinks early-stage investments are important and will make continued efforts on them,” said Lee.

The move comes as SoftBank rapidly transforms beyond telecoms into a tech investing giant.

In addition to the $100 billion Saudi-backed SoftBank Vision Fund that has made big investments in firms like Uber, SoftBank said Thursday it was launching a $5 billion fund focused on Latin America.

The bigger remit for SoftBank Ventures Asia, which describes itself as the group’s global arm for early-stage investing, came after a successful presentation to SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son last October, Lee said.

Tasked by Son to explain why SoftBank should keep investing in early-stage startups, Lee on a visit to the group’s Tokyo offices invoked the words of Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma: “small guys become big guys.”

In doing so, he harkened back to Son’s most spectacular startup jackpot — his investment in 2000 of $20 million in the Chinese e-commerce firm. SoftBank’s current Alibaba stake is worth around $130 billion.

Three months later, SoftBank Ventures Korea was relaunched as SoftBank Ventures Asia and it now plans to open offices and hire investment managers in Singapore and Shanghai.Speech

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