SoftBank’s bid to become biggest global tech investor bang on track

25 May 2017

Image: NASA images/Shutterstock

Japanese company SoftBank has upped its investment activity, with May marking a particularly active time for an organisation bidding to become the biggest investor in tech around the globe.

Cancer treatments, virtual reality, mobile payments, artificial intelligence and ride-sharing comprise an eclectic mix of fields, perhaps only related by the interest from one pivotal investment group.

SoftBank’s month of May, though not yet complete, has seen it reveal stakes in Guardant Health, Improbable, Paytm, Nvidia and 99.

SoftBank on the move

A $200m stake ($100m is new) in 99 –Brazil’s largest ride-sharing company – represents SoftBank’s latest foray into such operations around the world, with the company choosing to spread its influence throughout the emerging field.

While Uber – the best known player in the industry – is not one of SoftBank’s investees, with 99 now on board, the investor sports an interest in Ola (India), Grab (south-east Asia), Lyft (US) and Didi Chuxing (China).

“We see strong growth and a great outlook for the mobility solutions sector in Latin America,” said David Thévenon, MD of SoftBank.

“The 99 team has made impressive progress in Brazil, now operating in more than 400 cities and bringing positive changes to millions of users.”

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Earlier this week, SoftBank revealed its interest in Nvidia, one of the world’s major chip manufacturers, with a $4bn investment.

Many of Nvidia’s graphic chips are targeted at tomorrow’s world, with a significant emphasis on AI, and where computing is taking us and our machines. It is dominant in today’s gaming sector.

These moves are part of a $100bn focus on all things cutting edge, with SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son not hiding his grandiose intentions for this decade.

Son wants to pursue more and more investments, putting SoftBank front of the queue for future technologies. Many of the investments are key, geographical landmarks.

The plans are ambitious, but have received significant backing. For example, Apple is one of the companies to shell out $1bn to support the fund.

SoftBank also put €1.4bn into Indian digital payments company One97 Communications, owners of the popular Paytm brand, earlier this month.

This injection of funding is one of the biggest investments to date in the Indian tech ecosystem, with Paytm (220m customers) India’s largest digital goods and m-commerce platform.

Key markets

One week earlier, London software start-up Improbable, which has created a platform for building virtual and simulated worlds, raised $502m in a Series B round led by SoftBank.

The investment is one of the largest of its kind in an early-stage European software start-up, and, when tied in with SoftBank’s Nvidia interest, it shows that even this sporadic approach of broad investment does have some thematic focus.

One of SoftBank’s more interesting moves, though, came at the very start of the month when Guardant Health’s plans to build one of the most wide-reaching medical projects in recent years saw the Japanese conglomerate get on board.

Securing $350m to help sequence the tumour DNA of 1m cancer patients, Guardant’s backing from SoftBank was of particular note.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic