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Softbank Takes Its VC Machine to Latin America

Japanese Net investor Softbank Tuesday announced plans to pour $100 million into a new venture capital fund for Latin American Internet ventures.

Softbank Latin America Ventures (SBLV) may combine forces with yet unnamed strategic partners, but Softbank will be the sole support of the first fund, which is expected to open later this month.

The VC fund aims to help Net companies enter local markets, fund local entrepreneurs, and foster companies with a focus on the region.

Softbank cited studies from International Data Corp. which recently projected that the Latin American Internet population will surge from 8.5 million to 24.3 million by 2003. E-commerce revenues are estimated to hit $460 million for last year, with a expected 24-fold increase to $8 billion in the next three years.

"SOFTBANK is committed to helping build the Internet globally, and Latin America represents the next major area of opportunity," said Masayoshi Son, Softbank's president and chief executive officer. "By dedicating funds and strategic resources to the region we expect to contribute substantially to the development of the Latin American Internet."

Jan Boyer, who formerly directed BankBoston's Latin America private equity operations, will act as managing general partner for SBLV. Eric Hippeau, Ziff-Davis' chairman and CEO, Gary Rieschel, managing director of Softbank Venture Capital, and Softbank's vice chairman Ronald D. Fisher join Son in directing the venture's investments. The company will set up offices in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and Miami.

SBLV is the newest addition to a long line of local initiatives linked to a global investment strategy. Softbank, which was instrumental in bringing sector leaders such as Yahoo! (YHOO) and E*Trade (EGRP) into prominence, also created holdings through joint ventures with Naray Telecom in Korea, and with Vivendi for the @viso fund in continental Europe. eVentures, a joint venture with News Corp., is targeting the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and India.