Launched in 2016, the Innovation Fund targets early stage companies in robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, video, music, entertainment and other technologies. It has invested in around 25 companies in the U.S., Japan and Europe so far. The average investment is a few million in each company.
“We are focused on early stage startups, so each investment is relatively small,” said Toshimoto Mitomo, senior investment executive for the fund. “But our plan is to stay with the company, and when they grow and need additional funding, we are open minded depending on the situation.”
While Sony has made corporate venture investments in the past, it took a hiatus in recent years as it restructured amid struggles with its core electronics business.
Now that the company is profitable again, it’s renewed efforts to invest in startups.
“In the artificial intelligence area, for example, we do have a strong deep learning research team, but at the same time, the field is moving so fast,” said Hiroaki Kitano, who oversees Sony’s Computer Sciences Laboratories. “The opportunity is so immense. So we can work with all these startups and explore more.”
Kitano led the team that developed Sony’s Aibo robotic dog and is co-founder of RoboCup, an annual robotics competition with the long-term goal of creating a team of soccer playing robots than can beat the reigning World Cup champions.