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Nvidia launches graphics chip venture fund

Nvidia launches the GPU Ventures Program, an initiative to identify and invest in early stage graphics companies.

Nvidia on Tuesday is launching the GPU Ventures Program, an initiative to identify and invest in early stage companies that use the graphics processor for visual and high-performance computing.

Nvidia is formalizing a process that it has engaged in for a number of years, Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development at Nvidia, said in a phone interview. Herbst has been involved in strategic partnerships at Nvidia for seven and a half years. (GPU stands for graphics processing unit.)

"We're looking at companies that are building businesses around the GPU. Whether they be 3D GUIs (graphical user interfaces), Google Earth, which was an investment of ours, virtual worlds, games, artificial intelligence, physics--these types of things," Herbst said. (Google Earth was originally developed by a company called Keyhole, which Nvidia invested in.)

"Also companies that use GPUs for things that have nothing to do with visual computing, for example, oil and gas exploration," he said. "Crunching massive amounts of seismic data to go find where natural resources are located. Taking jobs that were taking months and changing that to days, hours, minutes."

The range of investment is $500,000 on the low end to $5 million on the high end, Herbst said.

As a preamble to Tuesday's announcement, Nvidia last summer kicked off the Emerging Companies Summit, aimed at entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and investment bankers. The Summit was sponsored by Cooley Godward Kronish, Morgan Stanley, and RR Donnelley.

In addition to Google Earth, Herbst cited past investments such as Ageia, a developer of Physx software, which Nvidia now owns, and Elemental Technologies, the creator of Badaboom Media Converter, which converts video between different formats.

Other past investments include Mental Images (also acquired by Nvidia), which provides rendering and 3D modeling technology to the entertainment and computer-aided design industries, and MotionDSP, which offers software for improving video quality.