BMW's Venture Capital Arm Is Moving To Silicon Valley And Looking For Startups

BMW is expanding the scope of its venture capital arm to invest in dozens of startups shaping the future of transportation.

The automaker’s iVentures division launched in 2011 to advance mobility services and electric driving startups. Now it’s broadening its focus to include other fields expected to have an outsized impact on the future of mobilitysuch as artificial intelligence and autonomous driving.

To support its growth, iVentures is creating a new fund of up to $530 million over the next decade, which will operate separately from the BMW Group. It is also moving its headquarters from New York to Palo Alto to be closer to the startups and expanding its presence overseas.

The new structure is designed to increase BMW’s profitability and access to technology. “You have to be much faster than in the past, and you need to change your attitude,” Klaus Fröhlich, a member of BMW’s Board of Management, told Forbes in an interview earlier this month. “I think everyone is talking about the same thing. For me, it’s not the what. It’s the how.”

 

The automaker’s relationship with the startups will be symbiotic, according to Fröhlich. BMW, which celebrated its centennial this year, will contribute its technical expertise and global network, while the connection to Silicon Valley will bolster the automaker’s reputation as a technology pioneer. “Ideas are not unique,” Fröhlich said. “The competition is in the cost structures.”

iVentures is casting a wide net, indicating that the automotive industry’s next significant developments are likely to come from outside the industry. It is seeking exploring shared mobility, virtual reality, in-vehicle digitalization, and the cloud, as well as ways to improve the overall customer experience. “I need a 5G network very soon and also some new artificial intelligence approaches,” Fröhlich said.

Since the tech sector moves quicker than the automotive industry, iVentures will now operate independently from BMW Group. It will be led by two managing partners who report to a BMW Group Steering Board, three Board of Management members, and the head of Corporate Planning and Product Strategy.

Meanwhile, the group will also expand within Europe, and possibly to Asia and Israel. “In the next two years, I need to build hubs where the people are,” Fröhlich said.

iVentures started five years ago with an initial fund of $100 million to invest in 15 mobility-related startups, including Zendrive, MyCityWay, Life360, STRATIM, Scoop, Parkmobile, JustPark, ChargePoint, Moovit, and RideCell. Its most recent investment is Carbon 3D, a Silicon Valley-based startup that provides BMW with access to 3D printing for automotive parts.