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Intel sets up venture fund for Brazil

Fund will invest $50 million in a variety of Brazilian start-ups as part of its expansion into emerging markets.

Intel Capital, the venture arm of chipmaker Intel, has created a venture fund that will invest $50 million in Brazilian start-ups, the latest step in an effort to expand its business in emerging nations.

The fund will invest in a variety of companies but pay particular attention to start-ups focusing on wireless technologies such as WiMax, said a spokesman. Intel has already invested about $35 million in 13 Brazilian start-ups, including Digitron, TelecomNet and Certsign. The new fund will thus bring the total invested in Brazil to around $85 million. CEO Paul Otellini is in Brazil for a series of meetings this week.

Brazil is part of the so-called BRIC powers, which also include Russia, India and China. These four countries are expected to constitute four of the fastest-growing regional markets and tech centers over the next few decades. But, as one IBM executive said, there is a big difference between the BR and IC parts of the equation, with crime, political instability and other issues hampering the development of indigenous tech industries in Brazil and Russia.

Sprinkling venture dollars to jumpstart a new market is a longstanding strategy at Intel. Last year, Craig Barrett popped over to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to announce a $50 million fund concentrating on the Middle East. It also has created funds for India and China.

In the past few years, the chipmaker has emerged as one of the largest venture investors in the world. While Intel wants to obtain a financial return on its investment, its venture funds largely exist to help create new products and ultimately spur demand for new PCs or other products containing Intel chips. The company has a large general fund as well as several specialty funds.

The success of the specialty funds varies all over the map. For instance, Intel created a fund targeted at companies developing technology for its Itanium processor. After several years, however, Itanium is selling below expectations. In 2005, a now-retired Intel Capital executive said that the company would not likely be placing investments in start-ups in Russia had it foreseen the most recent political scandals.

On the other hand, some of Intel's Chinese investments have already held IPOs. Overall, since 1991, 160 of the companies in Intel Capital's portfolio have been acquired while another 150 have gone public.