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Softbank and co. to invest $1bn in Euro Net start-ups

$450m coming to UK, rest to the Continent

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Softbank, Rupert Murdoch, the French Vivendi and smaller partners are investing $1 billion in two venture capital funds, one in the UK with $450 million, and the other in Europe with $550 million. The focus will be on funding Internet start-ups. So far, Softbank has invested around $2 billion of the $5 billion it is planning to invest over a 12-14 month period. In the UK, Softbank will be investing $275 million of Softbank's money and $150 million from News Corp's ePartners, as well as a further $25 million from other investors. Softbank UK ventures will be managed by Mark Booth (ex-BSkyB) of ePartners. In Europe, Softbank will fork out $400 million, while Vivendi comes up with $100 million, and other investors $50 million. The intention is to take minority stakes of 10-30 per cent in new ventures. Eric Hippeau, CEO of ZD until the end of the "strategic alternatives program", which is expected to wind-up in June, is president of Softbank's international activity and will be acting general manager of Softbank Europe until that job is filled. Last July, Softbank partnered with News Corp and Vivendi to provide $150 million for US Internet companies wanting to expand outside the US. A further $2 billion will be invested in the US, and at least $1 billion in Japan, with a further $2 billion for more investment in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. Softbank has invested in 330 companies so far, and the value of its investments in those traded publicly is $49 billion. Forbes is currently suggesting that Masayoshi Son, the founder and chairman of Softbank, could streak past Bill Gates as the world's richest man later this year. The value of Son's holdings increased tenfold since July to $64 billion as of last month, but Softbank's share price has fallen from Y198,000 ($1852.89) to Y130,000 ($1216.55) since mid-February on fears of the company's inability to execute its investment plans successfully. Softbank is also trying to acquire 60 per cent of the failed Nippon Credit Bank from the Japanese government, but doubts have been expressed about the wisdom of doing this. Son, who is of Korean extraction, has experienced business opposition from Japanese conservatives, but has steadily overcome this. At one point last month, Softbank companies accounted for 40 per cent of the trading value of the Tokyo stock exchange. ®

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