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Kodak opens Silicon Valley office

The film giant's venture group opens an office in San Jose, Calif., as it looks to tap into new digital technology companies.

Eastman Kodak announced Wednesday it expanded its venture capital arm into Silicon Valley, as the film giant looks to tap into new digital technology companies.

Kodak Venture Group opened an office in San Jose, Calif., where the venture fund will relocate from New York. Five of the eight venture partners will be based in the California office. Kodak Venture also maintains offices in New York and London.

"We wanted to increase our West Coast presence in Silicon Valley and focus on high-growth areas. Technology is being developed all over the world, but we wanted to have more smart eyes and ears in Silicon Valley and the venture group gives us that," said Anthony Sanzio, a company spokesman.

Kodak Venture, formed last October, tends to invest $2 million to $5 million per company, as a first- or second-round investor.

"We focus on companies that can use Kodak technology and are in the early stage and offer a return" on investment, said Ted Lewis, senior vice president and director of digital business development for Eastman Kodak. Lewis also oversees Kodak Venture.

The venture arm invests in digital imaging technology, multimedia applications and digital device companies. Some of its recent investments include Dataplay, which developed digital storage media technology for portable Internet devices. Kodak Venture last week announced a $5 million investment in Dataplay. Wednesday, the venture group announced it invested $2.4 million in YesVideo, a multimedia services company that allows customers to take their videotape to retail outlets or malls and have it transferred to CDs and DVDs.

Kodak Venture has fewer than a dozen companies in its portfolio, some of which include previous investments made by Eastman Kodak. Lewis said he does not expect the portfolio to exceed 30 companies.

"We, as a team, can handle only about 30 companies. We don't plan to have a huge portfolio," he said.

Although some of the previous investments made by Eastman Kodak have run into some problems, the bulk of the portfolio is largely unaffected by the market's downturn.

"We don't have the problems of Intel and others that invested billions of dollars at the top of the market. Since we started our fund in October, we didn't buy into a lot of the problems others are now having," Lewis said. "It's a great opportunity to start a fund now. It's about 75 percent cheaper to invest in companies than it was a year ago."

And while a number of other corporations are pulling back on investing in start-ups, Eastman Kodak plans to spend the same amount it has in previous years, Lewis said. The company plans to allocate $100 million to its venture arm.

Kodak Venture plans to take a different investment direction from that of Eastman Kodak, Lewis said. Eastman Kodak used to primarily invest in more mature, privately held companies and was more concerned about its strategic fit than also posting a return on investment. Kodak Venture is looking to accomplish these things, except it is also looking for investments with the potential to return a profit.

In addition to seeking investments outside of the company, Kodak Venture will also take a look within. The venture arm plans to troll through Kodak's research labs to identify technologies that can be spun out into a separate company.