In an article announcing the change, Nagraj Kashyap, the corporate vice president of the new Microsoft Ventures, says that while the company has done a lot of investment in the past, it's not been focused on early stage, instead investing alongside commercial deals. The new division will be more like Google Ventures, which takes risks on young companies for a potentially huge return.
One company that Microsoft invested in early was Facebook, which it pumped $250 million into back in 2007. But that was an investment in preferred stock at a $15 billion valuation, and more about ad sales than venture capitalism.
The new division will have an initial presence in San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Tel Aviv, Israel. "... We were not a part of the early industry conversations on disruptive technology trends," said Kashyap, but "with a formalized venture fund, Microsoft now has a seat at the table." Expect to see Microsoft to invest in more companies at a nascent stage, especially those focused on those that complement the company's existing products and services, and those focused on machine learning and security.
While the announcement talks a good talk, it's not clear how much this is a rebrand and reorganization versus a real effort to step up investment. Kashyap said that the division is "not aiming to hit a specific number of investments annually," but "in the coming days and weeks ahead and beyond, you will see us showing up as an investor in companies that complement these spaces and those that aim to disrupt how business is done today."