Fortune Senior Editor Dan Primack recently returned from a visit to Silicon Valley and he reports new details on the Calico Google venture that is funding research into extending human life spans.
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He reports that Calico, co-founded by Bill Maris, managing partner at Google Ventures, had commitments of investment from wealthy tech execs and VCs, but that Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page decided to fund the venture entirely from Google’s balance sheet:
Maris began raising money, largely from wealthy tech executives and venture capitalists… One of those Maris called on was Google co-founder and director of special projects Sergey Brin, who expressed interest in investing.But as conversations progressed between Brin, Maris and Google CEO Larry Page, a consensus began to form that the best course of action would be to fund the entire project off of Google’s balance sheet (the board would later agree).
I have heard various numbers as to the exact Google commitment, but for now can only really say that we’re talking about a minimum of hundreds of millions (tranched out, of course). The company itself still isn’t commenting, although it’s possible that there will be some specifics in its next quarterly earnings report (due next week).
How is this venture part of Google’s mission to index the world’s information? Some might argue that DNA is information, too. However, creating drugs and life-extension technologies isn’t an index and it’s not what Google’s shareholders chose to invest in.
Developing drugs and medical equipment is incredibly capital intensive and risky. It will bite into Google’s profitability.
It already has to absorb large losses from CEO Larry Page’s US$12.5-billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility two years ago, which last quarter resulted in half it’s workforce being cut with the loss of 5 400 jobs.
However, the founders control the voting shares and the board of directors — there’s not much that common shareholders can do about it other than take their money out.
The Calico venture could have been funded by Silicon Valley’s wealthy elite. Dan Primack reports that Mr. Maris had succeeded in persuading many wealthy tech execs and VCs to invest, and both Google founders were considering using their own wealth to invest. However, they decided it’d be better to use Google’s money rather than their own.
I think the reason might be that Google has plans to use the life extension technologies as an employment retention scheme to stop valuable software engineers from leaving the company.
Earlier this year at a Commonwealth Club Inforum event, Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing at Google, said: ” what if where you worked resulted in you being able to live a lot longer? “You might never leave the company,” he said.
A talented software engineer is immensely valuable to Google’s competitors because they can scale their work across an immensely large web services platform.
Google’s interests are strongly focused on keeping the best talent at Google — even if they aren’t working on essentail projects — because that denies them to competitors.