Comcast to fold Comcast Ventures into corporate business division, focus on strategic investment

Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Comcast Ventures, the corporate venture capital firm, is folding into Comcast‘s business development division and shifting its strategy to focus only on strategic investments.

Partners were informed of the change this week, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. While Comcast Ventures will continue to operate under Comcast chief business development officer Sam Schwartz, it will no longer invest in a broad array of companies, instead focusing only on start-ups that can support Comcast initiatives. That change, combined with the fund’s decreased independence from Comcast, will likely lead to a number of partner defections, the people said.

“Comcast Ventures has been a valuable innovation pipeline, providing insight into adjacent industries and investment opportunities” a spokesperson told CNBC. “We are aligning our approach to venture investing more closely with our business units and repositioning Comcast Ventures and its fund under the strategic business development team at Comcast Cable. Our business development teams across the company continue to invest in new technology and businesses, which we believe will yield more strategic opportunities and benefits for Comcast and the companies in which we invest. We will continue to support our existing portfolio companies through investment and strategic partnership.”

Amy Banse, the head of funds for Comcast Ventures, announced her retirement in September. Dave Zilberman, a 15-year Comcast Ventures veteran, said this week he was leaving for Norwest Venture Partners.

When Banse announced her departure, Comcast said CFO Michael Cavanagh would take over leadership of Comcast Ventures. In the past two months, Cavanagh and former Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis, who now runs the private investment firm Atairos with capital from Comcast, reviewed the fund’s strategy and decided it’s a better fit within Schwartz’s business development unit, one of the people said.

Schwartz was one of the founding partners of Comcast Ventures more than 20 years ago. He will decide if Comcast is better served acquiring companies or making seed, venture or later-stage investments. Comcast will continue to support the existing Comcast Ventures portfolio.

Many of Comcast Ventures’ best performing investments through the years have been strategic in nature, including CTI Towers, which Melody Investment Advisors acquired earlier this month, said the people. It has become increasingly difficult to compete for targets as more funds, such as SoftBank‘s Vision Fund, General Atlantic and Insight Partners, raise tens of billions of dollars for start-ups. The last two years have been record setting in terms of venture dollars invested in U.S. companies, according to The National Venture Capital Association.

Refocusing Comcast Ventures on companies that support broadband distribution and streaming video could help Comcast stay ahead of trends while being more disciplined on investments the company understands best.

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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