Wearable Gadgets of Various and Dubious Value

A friend of mine was kidding me that I used to buy every “gadget of dubious value” that came out, which is pretty much true.   But he also remembered that one of them was the first iPod, and that turned out to be a pretty good one.

Gadgets1

 

Here’s a rundown of the current crop of wearable tech gadgets that I’ve had a chance to use.

ACTIVITY TRACKERS

Nike FuelBand and FuelBand SE.   Probably the best of the bunch, looks and feels great, the SE now synchs nicely and wirelessly with Bluetooth LE.  But is missing the boat on Sleep/Wake functionality – they hint at it with the SE but don’t really do anything with it yet.

Jawbone Up - looks and feels great, the Sleep/Wake function might be the best out there, but the original version had really bad synching (physical plug into your phone) and limited battery and you’d lose the end cap all the time.   But I think the new version fixes a lot of that, and others I know that use it love it.

Fitbit Flex – This one was one of the first wireless synching devices, and it looks and feels good on the wrist, but the UI is a little limiting and it’s a pain to take it out of the wrist strap to charge it every time.  But it looks like the upcoming Fitbit Force could be great.

Misfit Shine – the design is beautiful and the UI is intriguingly simple, and the first time you synch it feels like magic.  But that wears off really quickly and then the clip on band breaks and you realize the synching was a magic trick and the UI isn’t that helpful.

Withings Pulse – probably the best UI of all of them and it does support sleep/wake, but for some reason they don’t offer it as a watch or with a wrist strap – it should be a watch too.  They do offer a sleep wristband but it’s too much work taking it in and out of that and explicitly setting sleep modes.

WATCHES

The Pebble looks great with a very cool interface and I really love the notifications from the phone.  But it just doesn’t work well enough, whether it’s synching problems or the charging cable is broken – but at least they give good customer service on Twitter.

The Cookoo is a great looking looking watch that I’d wear even if the notifications and synching to the iPhone didn’t work.  Which is good, because it literally doesn’t work as advertised – the software and connection to the phone are useless.

I’ve played with the Continue reading "Wearable Gadgets of Various and Dubious Value"

What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)

For a long time, I wondered what a day in the life of an angel investor looks like. How do investors and startups get introduced? What kind of information gets exchanged before and during meetings? How are decisions made? What happens after an investment? This post is an attempt to describe some of my recent experiences from the investor's perspective. This is not meant to be authoritative or comprehensive, but instead to provide a good high-level overview for those who are interested in startup investing.

At a high level, angel investors have handful of responsibilities:

  1. Find companies that look like good potential investments.
  2. Talk to said companies.
  3. Convince the more promising companies to take your money. (No, really.)
  4. Offer advice and introductions to existing investments.

I will cover the first two points in this post and last two points in the next post.

Looking for Prospective Investments

Okay, your Continue reading "What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)"

What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)

For a long time, I wondered what a day in the life of an angel investor looks like. How do investors and startups get introduced? What kind of information gets exchanged before and during meetings? How are decisions made? What happens after an investment? This post is an attempt to describe some of my recent experiences from the investor's perspective. This is not meant to be authoritative or comprehensive, but instead to provide a good high-level overview for those who are interested in startup investing. At a high level, angel investors have handful of responsibilities:
  1. Find companies that look like good potential investments.
  2. Talk to said companies.
  3. Convince the more promising companies to take your money. (No, really.)
  4. Offer advice and introductions to existing investments.
I will cover the first two points in this post and last two points in the next post.

Looking for Prospective Investments

Okay, your Continue reading "What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)"

What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)

For a long time, I wondered what a day in the life of an angel investor looks like. How do investors and startups get introduced? What kind of information gets exchanged before and during meetings? How are decisions made? What happens after an investment? This post is an attempt to describe some of my recent experiences from the investor's perspective. This is not meant to be authoritative or comprehensive, but instead to provide a good high-level overview for those who are interested in startup investing.

At a high level, angel investors have handful of responsibilities:

  1. Find companies that look like good potential investments.
  2. Talk to said companies.
  3. Convince the more promising companies to take your money. (No, really.)
  4. Offer advice and introductions to existing investments.

I will cover the first two points in this post and last two points in the next post.

Looking for Prospective Investments

Okay, your business card says Angel Investor. Now what?

The first thing you need to do is to find companies to invest in. This is referred to as deal flow. If you don't have any potential deals to evaluate, then there's nothing for you to do.

So how do you find potential investments? There are many viable approaches:

  • Your personal network. Sometimes an investor and a startup founder have a mutual friend who introduces them at the appropriate time.
  • Other angel investors. For the purposes of investment diversification, angels typically invest much less than companies are looking to raise. For example, a typical angel might seek to invest $50k in 20 different companies, but each of those companies will be looking for $400k or $800k or some other amount that much higher than $50k. You might expect angel investors to be competing with each other, but this is only the case for the hottest startups. Most of the time, because no single angel investor can provide a startup with all of the funds it is looking for, investors will share their deal flow with their investor friends.
  • Demo Days. These days, a large number of startups go through startup incubators and accelerators like YCombinator or 500 Startups. These incubators provide a little bit of funding and a lot of advice and connections to their startups in exchange for a small amount of equity. The incubators also host Demo Days 1-3x per year where startups have a chance to showcase their accomplishments to potential investors.
  • Sites like AngelList. AngelList is a directory of startups, entrepreneurs, and investors. The site frequently features startups that are looking to raise money, and it's a great place to learn about what's new in the startup world.
  • TechCrunch, etc. Sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, and VentureBeat can be Continue reading "What Do Angel Investors Actually Do? (Part 1)"

This Skype Ad Just Made Me Cry

Last week I wrote an article about branding personality and how startups can use it to elicit emotions from us. Today, I came across one of the best examples of a company doing just that.

Better have some Kleenex on hand……

The Death of the Tech Giant

How the rise of open, flexible, heterogeneous architectures have reshaped the technology stack and distorted winner-take-all dynamics in IT 

Traditionally, tech has been characterized by discontinuous innovation – that is, innovation which is not built on top existing standards or infrastructure – giving rise to entirely new markets each supported by unique value chains that standardize and then coalesce around one dominant player. Semiconductors, PCs, relational databases, local area networks (LANs) are all examples of such innovations that spawned, what many refer to as, the modern day tech giant – in the case of the innovations cited above those corresponding giants would be Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco, respectively. These companies, whose products became the standard around which entire new supply chains were formed, fundamentally built and shaped the technology stack and as a result were able to establish protective moats around their businesses. Accordingly, these companies were afforded tremendous competitive advantages as they were able to erect seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry and enforce punitively high switching costs on the entire technology value chain.

However today, these companies are facing unique sets of challenges which, in turn, are curtailing growth and compressing margins. Indeed, each of the four companies cited above is trading at or near historic lows (on a price/earnings basis). There are myriad secular reasons that help explain why, arguably, the four most dominant tech companies in the last 2-3 decades are struggling, however, I want to put forth a broader, macro-rooted explanation: simply that, as we continue to move closer to an IT model that is characterized by flexible, open, highly heterogeneous architectures, the tech paradigm shifts away from a winner-take-all dynamic to one such that no single player exerts a disproportionate amount of force on a particular market.

Before examining what’s different today, it’s helpful to understand historically how these tech giants came to dominance. Traditionally, a discontinuous innovation would spur a period of hyper-growth that coincided with mass market adoption of the new technology. During this time, several companies would come to market with competing offerings, yet in an effort scale rapidly, market stakeholders generally would standardize around a product from a single vendor, building compatible systems and getting a whole new set of product and service providers up to speed to build a new value chain. This act of standardization, catapulted a single company into a position of overwhelmingly dominant competitive advantage, as seen with Intel’s x86 chip architecture, Microsoft’s Windows operating system, the Oracle Database and Cisco’s TCP/IP network routers.

So, what’s changed recently? I argue that there isn’t one principle catalyst for this shift, but rather many small evolutions in the way technology is developed, procured and deployed that have distorted Continue reading “The Death of the Tech Giant”

Liberate, Animate, Cooperate, Instigate

A few months ago I watched on video a talk by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University (where I went), called "Beyond the University." In this talk Michael lays out a framework justification for why a broad based liberal education matters. If so inclined you can watch it here. It's great, but I am not that interested right now in the merits of that discourse, as interesting as they may be.

Instead, I've been thinking of that framework he lays out. He says that liberal education matters because it provides four things for individuals: the ability to liberate, animate, cooperate and instigate, in their lives and the world. More specifically,
*liberate - giving people more autonomy and be able to decide on their own destinies  
*animate - helping the world come alive 
*cooperate - listening to your neighbors to improve our collective lot
*instigate - the ability to instigate change in your world 
My wife Susan just got back from a conference - people who were united over a medical condition and who came together, initially through blogs, Twitter, Facebook. This was the first time many of them were in the same room together - in person at this event. They didn't describe it this way, but as I listened to the planning and heard about goings-on at the three-day conference, I realized that they too had used tools - modern, Internet based tools - to liberate themselves in part from a medical system that wasn't paying attention, to animate what that world looks like, to work with each other, and to instigate change.

Perhaps it's that simple. What if these four concepts - liberate, animate, cooperate, instigate - are the foundation of the current great and future special Internet services that we have, we need, and we deserve. 





Women and Tech

Women and Tech. It’s an area that’s been getting a lot of attention lately- especially the conversation around Twitter’s board.

I realized a few months ago that Qualcomm Ventures has a significant percent of female co-founders, CEOs and Chairwomen in our portfolio. For Europe, it’s 50%+. That’s right – over HALF of our companies… are founded, co-founded or chaired by women [blippar, CTC, ip.access, Rockpack , Grand Cru, Everplaces and Arieso (now exited)]. There wasn’t a decision to actively target female led companies, it’s simply a pattern that emerged. And it’s an impressive one.

My last post was about why we invested in Rockpack, where I highlighted the founder and CEO, Sofia Fenichell as a key part of that decision making process, saying “…as a [female] tech entrepreneur, she’s already the top 2%. You have to fight hard, and after you meet her, you realize she’s top 1%.”

A recent study carried out by Carnegie Mellon and MIT professors showed that teams that contain at least one female outperform male only teams in collective intelligence tests.

Start-ups are a team effort… The data shows the more women on the team, the better. That, plus the fact that most of the tech success stories are around companies that focus on a female demographic, or are widely adopted by a female demographic (Pinterest, Facebook, etc). So, who better to run these companies than female entrepreneurs? (Several of our portfolio companies customers skew female as well – FitBit, Wrapp, Rockpack, etc.)

Women in tech have historically been too few an far between. However, this is changing and there are clearly some shining stars right now – Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Myer are probably the most visible. In London, there’s a host of local female heros as well – Jessica Butcher from Blippar, Divinia Knowles of Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters), Joanna Shields of Facebook, TechCity and Future Fifty fame, Sitar Teli, Partner at Connect Ventures, Reshma Sohoni, Partner at Seedcamp… and the list goes on, and on… and on.

Women are starting, funding and floating companies. This is an awesome change. One that’s been a long time in the making… and a change whose time has come.

(P.S. Tip of the hat to all the Techbikers crew, guys and girls. A group of 70 of us raised $75,000 for charity cycling 200 miles from Paris to London in September. More in the Techcrunch article here).

 <– The Awesome Techbikers Female Contingency


Bitcoin – The Internet of Money

This post is old – I wrote it for Wired, which just published an excerpt in “The Wired World in 2014” issue, but the article was written in July. Apologies for the obsolescence.

Bitcoin will eventually be recognized as a platform for building new financial services.

Most people are only familiar with (b)itcoin the electronic currency, but more important is (B)itcoin, with a capital B, the underlying protocol, which encapsulates and distributes the functions of contract law.

Bitcoin encapsulates four fundamental technologies:

  • Digital Signatures – these can’t be forged and allow one party to securely verify a transaction with another.
  • Peer-to-Peer networks, like BitTorrent or TCP/IP – difficult to take down and no central trust
    required.
  • Proof-of-Work prevents users from spending the same money twice, without needing a central authority to distinguish valid from invalid transactions. Bitcoin creates an incentive for miners, who run powerful computers in the network, to
    Continue reading "Bitcoin – The Internet of Money"

The Internet’s Neighborhood Watch



The Neighborhood Watch dates back to July 1, 1700 in Colonial Philadelphia with the passage of the Safe Streets bill. With no police department yet established, citizens took turns as the appointed watchmen to "go round ye town with a small bell in ye night time, to give notice of ye time of night and the weather, and anie disorders or danger."

In many ways, cyberspace today feels like Colonial Philadelphia - fraught with "disorders and dangers" and no police force capable of apprehending the offenders. No wonder then that last February President Obama signed an executive order calling on Americans in the public and private sector to establish the equivalent of a cyber Neighborhood Watch.
"It is the policy of the United States to enhance the security and resilience of the Nation's critical infrastructure and to maintain a cyber environment that encourages efficiency, innovation, and economic prosperity while promoting safety, security, business confidentiality, privacy, and civil liberties. We can achieve these goals through a partnership with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure to improve cybersecurity information sharing..."
But sharing cyber threat data is shockingly rare, despite the fact that for the last two decades, hackers have steadily organized a vibrant industry around the tools and services needed to launch cyber attacks --credit card credentials, script kiddies, zero day vulnerabilities, bot armies, and other staples of cyberwarfare are sold through web sites and channels similar to those associated with legitimate IT purchases. And yet up until 12 months ago, when a wave of cyber attacks against US banks, government agencies and media sites exposed our economy's soft underbelly, no enterprise would ever voluntarily discuss its security infrastructure, let alone acknowledge a breach or even an attack, lest they worry their constituents.

But in those 4 months from October 2012 to February 2013, everything changed. A steady drumbeat of DDoS attacks rendered our banks offline and, for the first time, account holders have demanded their banks openly address the problem. In a novel gesture of transparency and collaboration, Bank of America actually asked the Feds for help.

The US has responded by organizing industry and government to start collaborating, so that cyber attackers, as they are detected, cannot simply jump from target to target. Twenty nine federal agencies today share real-time threat data stemming from cyber incidents through an exchange integrated with all the heterogeneous security infrastructure across those agencies. Suspect IP addresses, bad app signatures, malicious domain names, fraudulent host names, and other types of black lists are now updated in real time to broadly deflect attacks as they are discovered.

Furthermore, this federal "ActiveTrust Exchange" has now been opened up to large commercial enterprises, including financial institutions
Continue reading "The Internet’s Neighborhood Watch"

First Post!

I'm a software engineer who recently moved into the world of venture capital. As one of the four partners at Susa Ventures, I spend my days meeting and talking with founders, doing technical and non-technical due diligence to decide if specific startups are a good match for Susa, and offering technical advice to companies that we invest in. It's a great job that gives me the chance to meet a lot of smart, passionate entrepreneurs. This blog will cover topics relevant to angel investors (e.g. tips for doing technical due diligence), entrepreneurs (e.g. tips for more effective pitches), and anyone who is interested in how startup investing works (e.g. how seed funds work, what kind of questions get asked during due diligence, general observations about investing, et cetera).

First Post!

I'm a software engineer who recently moved into the world of venture capital. As one of the four partners at Susa Ventures, I spend my days meeting and talking with founders, doing technical and non-technical due diligence to decide if specific startups are a good match for Susa, and offering technical advice to companies that we invest in. It's a great job that gives me the chance to meet a lot of smart, passionate entrepreneurs.

This blog will cover topics relevant to angel investors (e.g. tips for doing technical due diligence), entrepreneurs (e.g. tips for more effective pitches), and anyone who is interested in how startup investing works (e.g. how seed funds work, what kind of questions get asked during due diligence, general observations about investing, et cetera).

5 Personalities of Biz Dev Partners

It’s been said numerous times in numerous places that companies are people. This notion is especially true in startup business development. Understanding that companies have personalities just like some of your closest friends is important to figuring out which partners to target, how to pitch a potential partner, and how to position a deal or relationship.

Here are 5 types of friends that will help you understand your future business development partners.

  1. The Experimenter: We all know this person. He was the one who had to be the first to try anything, the risk-taker. If he wasn’t first, then he didn’t want any part of it. The same personality exists in the form of a company. However, I’ve noticed that it tends to come in one of two flavors. First, the company that has nothing to lose. They’re more than happy to be your guinea pig. The upside of working with them isn’t incredibly high, but the downside is mitigated because they’re likely not a crucial partner. Second, the company that has made a name for itself by being innovative with partnerships. They want to be first because it’s in their DNA. In this instance, the upside is significantly higher, but the downside is also rather extreme.
  2. The Sidekick / Fast Follower: This was the person who was always tagging along with The Experimenter. Once The Experimenter gave the go-ahead, The Sidekick was next in line. Again, I’ve noticed that this type of partner comes in one of two varieties when it comes to biz dev. First, The Sidekick may come in the form of an ally to The Experimenter. They could be owned by the same parent company or just work together frequently. Once you have The Experimenter on-board, it’s up to you to figure out who the best ally is. Second, The Fast Follower may also be a competitor to The Experimenter. After securing The Experimenter as a partner, approach a couple key competitors who will be driven to work with you to outdo The Experimenter.
  3. The Friend Who Needs Permission: Growing up, there was always a friend who had to ask for permission from his parents before doing anything. He always held up plans and slowed down the momentum of our group of friends. When working on biz dev deals, this type of company can often emerge. The leadership at the company is excited to work with you…they just need to talk to their parent company first. The derivative of this situation is a slightly more junior person who is thrilled to work with you…he just needs to pitch his boss on the idea first. Sometimes these situations are unavoidable; but it’s critical to make sure your Continue reading "5 Personalities of Biz Dev Partners"

QFactor raises $6.5m Series A

TechCrunch is reportingScreen Shot 2013-10-29 at 9.20.08 AM that one of the Archimedes LAbs portfolio companies – QFactor – has raised a $6.5m round of financing from Sigma Prime Ventures and Venrock.

I first met Subhash Roy in March 2012. He was a former associate of Archimedes CEO Kambiz Hooshmand. Subhash had licensed and developed a new algorithm that on the face of it was like magic. It could enable a bad wireless connection to perform almost perfectly, thus re-invigorating unused bandwidth. We helped with product planning and positioning and are now happy investors in Subhash’s company. Congrats to the entire team.

the bigger story behind ClearStory’s Data Intelligence

i know what you’re thinking — “another big data startup.” yes, it’s true, but beyond the cliche, there is truth and opportunity, and when it comes to larger enterprise businesses, small decisions can have tremendous effects — good and not so good — on the trajectory of a business. that’s where a company like ClearStory Data comes in. as i wrote about earlier at the time of our investment, larger amounts of data will undoubtedly lead to more noise, so businesses may place a premium on harnessing deep machine learning technologies to not only help with data sifting and analysis, but to also facilitate discovery of insights that the human eye may be incapable of observing.

ClearStory’s approach, announced today, is novel. by combining the power of its platform with various data sources and collaboration, Data Intelligence is enabled via a simple and intuitive user experience. up to this point, while decisions in the enterprise were often in consultation with the data, the data itself may not have been so good or as good as it could be – let alone collaboration around the data. here, there’s a larger trend afoot in the market for data intelligence and relative implications for how this data can inform decisions which directly tie to real returns on investment decisions within the enterprise.

the discovery from harnessing big data in the enterprise will spawn many new opportunities. as an investor, i’m obviously excited to meet founders who are thinking about using data to architect new systems and solutions, as well as new business models. it’s the deep learning from the data which excites me most — as the saying goes, “in God i trust, all others must bring data.” well, i’d put a spin on that — others may also want to bring data analysis tools and systems that can answer questions about the data in a collaborative manner in real time. in other words, the data is great, but not good enough anymore. it’s this “anymore” which creates the opportunity for the next set of founders to build something new, backed by hard data, which couldn’t have been known before.


So You Want to Compete Against Amazon?

I’ve had Amazon on my mind lately, part of which is due to my reading Brad Stone’s very interesting book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

I’ve described in earlier blog posts how Amazon is a brutal competitor for brick and mortar merchants due to their large and growing cost advantages and a maniacal commitment (at least most of the time) to having the lowest prices anywhere.  (You can read more about it here.)  These same drivers also make Amazon a heavyweight competitor for e-commerce companies as well.

Much attention has been paid to the concept of “show-rooming” in the context of brick and mortar stores, where customers use their smart phones to compare the cost of a product on a physical store’s shelf against online competitors—typically Amazon.  But show-rooming is also a fact of life for e-tailers due to the ease of comparing online prices.  As a result, Amazon is a monster competitor for online merchants as well.

Amazon enjoys scale economies far beyond that of their online competition that they can use to support hyper-aggressive prices and fast, cheap shipping.  Here is a simple illustration of their scale, using data from Internet Retailer:

top 50 e-retailers

Amazon is larger than the next dozen largest e-tailers—COMBINED!  Its resulting scale advantages are staggering.  And they aggressively re-invest the benefits of this scale into even lower prices and faster, cheaper shipping that in turn lead to growth and further scale advantages.  When we consider an e-commerce investment at a16z, we always strive to carefully evaluate the risk of competition from Amazon.  They’re not just a heavyweight—they’re the heavyweight champion of the world!

So how do you compete with Amazon?  Here are some strategies that we’re seeing in the market from both offline and online retailers.  Not all are mutually exclusive—i.e., many companies deploy multiple strategies:

Sell differentiated product:

Amazon’s sales skew very heavily towards “hard-lines”, things like media, electronics, home & garden, and toys.  Most best-selling hard-line products are produced by large manufacturers who market them heavily and distribute them broadly through multiple retail channels.  They are essentially commodities, identified by a standardized Universal Product Code (aka, U.P.C.).  An example is a Canon digital camera; once Canon’s ads convince you that you might want a Canon camera, you know you can shop for it pretty much anywhere.  And for most commodities, price is the key differentiator.  Consumers know that Amazon almost always has the lowest prices, along with free and fast shipping.

Many retailers try to “hit ‘em where they ain’t” and sell in categories where Amazon is less

Continue reading "So You Want to Compete Against Amazon?"

Community Surprises

There are many examples of online communities, as well as many examples of ways to engage, promote and respect those communities. At USV we think about this a fair amount.

But sometimes online communities can surprise you in unexpected ways. Sometimes in being the shepherd of a group of people and businesses you can learn about yourself too. Sometimes the way you interact with those communities takes different shapes than you would otherwise expect. 

Science Exchange is a transactional marketplace for scientific experiments; USV is an investor. The participants in this marketplace are on the one hand scientists with specific experimental research needs and on the other hand organizations with capabilities to do pieces of those experiments. Recently, the company moved down the street in Palo Alto to a new office, one that is open and bright. With large, blank walls. Looking at the blank walls was not fun, they needed to fill them with something. Being an early stage company, buying art wasn't really an option. So, they asked their community, the providers, for help. 



Which those providers did. Various members sent in pictures of the work they do. Microscopic images of the experiments they run. The main office wall is above (Tess did a great job here). Below is some more. On the left is "Histopathology" (the providers named the "works" themselves) - a microscopic picture of gut wall cells. The provider that sent it in is the Histopathology and Tissue Shared Resource which provides histology services (you can see their prices and ratings on the linked page). 



The art in the right of the additional picture below is an image of mouse vasculature from the Mouse Biology Program - again, you can see their services on the linked pages. 




When you walk into Science Exchange the effect is striking. Last week I was there and I was buzzing. Gorgeous images line the walls. It is pleasing and interesting to the eye. The office is filled with artwork. Artwork from and of their scientific community providers. Of their science and services. Just looking at the wall, it not only looks great but I imagine it also enhances the team's commitment to their mission, to what they are doing, and their focus on customer service.

There are many ways to increase the connections in your online community. Sometimes they are not what you think. Sometimes they involve another kind of hacking.


Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba establishes venture division in U.S., looking for more investments

Alibaba
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In yet another sign that e-commerce giant Alibaba has its sights fixed firmly on the U.S. market, the company announced this morning that it was establishing an “investment organization” in the United States.

The target is right down Alibaba’s strike zone: “innovative platforms, products and ideas with a focus on Internet commerce and emerging technologies.”

This of course follows Alibaba’s recent leading of a $206 million funding round in Amazon.com competitor ShopRunner just two weeks ago, and just a week after speculation that the China-based company was preparing for an initial public offering that would value the company at $110 billion, likely Continue reading "Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba establishes venture division in U.S., looking for more investments"