Thursday, September 11, 2008

USAToday: Crazy DFJ --- transforms global start-ups

"But the mavericks at DFJ saw powerful forces converging. The world's economy and financial markets kept growing. Technology was leaping across borders. Visionary entrepreneurs were emerging on all continents.

The long-run global bet by DFJ is paying off. Today, DFJ boasts a network of 20 "partner funds" in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, with 160 professionals managing $6 billion in start-up investments.

"People are creating companies all over the world," says DFJ managing director Don Wood, a Stanford MBA who oversees the funds with director Elizabeth Clarkson, a Harvard MBA. "We're building a global brand, and we're doing it collectively."

Over the past half-century, venture capitalists and start-ups in Silicon Valley have revolutionized much of the U.S. economy by launching new technologies in the electronics, computer, software and Internet industries."

"One of the most promising funds is DFJ Athena in Seoul, run by managing director Perry Ha, a Harvard MBA and tae kwon do martial arts instructor. Ha founded a small fund in Silicon Valley before teaming last year with DFJ.

Ha, 45, is bullish on South Korea, whose 50 million consumers embraced the high-speed Internet and new mobile devices several years before the USA and Europe did. Ha says South Korean start-ups are well-positioned to work with Samsung, LG Electronics and other global South Korean corporate giants.

The DFJ Athena fund has invested $100 million mostly in South Korea-based start-ups such as Call Gate, which is developing technology that will let consumers call a company or person's telephone number and instantly see website-like features and online data on their mobile device screens.

"Technology applications cut across borders so much that you can't help but invest around the world," Ha says.

DFJ's partner funds were created a few years ago, when DFJ sought investments outside Silicon Valley and created independent venture funds that focused regionally on start-ups from Alaska to New York."

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