Google made its fortune going against the grain, so it comes as no surprise that in March, amid the worst economic downturn in recent history, the big brains in Mountain View, Calif., created a VC arm. Rich Miner, previously in charge of developing Google's Android OS, and Bill Maris, founder of early web-hosting company Burlee.com, manage Google Ventures and want to invest up to $100 million in their first year. With their backgrounds, you can expect seed money to go to a heavy dose of software, hardware and internet startups, but Miner notes that they'll be investing in clean technology and health-care companies as well. "Economically, times are tough, but great ideas come when they will," wrote Miner on the company's blog. "If anything, we think the current downturn is an ideal time to invest in nascent companies that have the chance to be the next big thing, and we'll be working hard to find them."
So far, Google Ventures has invested in two companies: Pixazza, a Google AdSense-style technology that allows users to shop via photographs, and smart-grid metering service Silver Spring Networks. Both companies are based in Northern California, near Google HQ, but want to be seen as their own entities, out from under the shadow of the mothership. Silver Spring refused to comment on its relationship with Google, while Pixazza CEO Bob Lisbonne says that so far the relationship has been "exactly what we'd hoped for: not too much and not too little." Lisbonne noted the spotty history of corporate software launches and praised Google for being supportive without micromanaging. "They've accommodated all of our requests and refrained from imposing on us in any way, shape or form," he says. "We appreciate their vote of confidence." With Pixazza outfitting images at a rate of one billion per year, it seems Google's faith--and cash--are well placed.