Nvidia Offering $5 Million for Startups Interested in GPUs

Nvidia is planning to invest between $500,000 and $5 million in startup companies that are interested in developing applications and technologies that work with GPUs. The goal is to encourage companies to work with GPUs in the same way developers have worked to develop applications and technologies for CPUs. At the same time, the investment program allows Nvidia to build an ecosystem in the same way Intel has built one for its x86 processors during the years.

In a time when tech companies are eliminating employees and cutting costs, Nvidia is looking to offer up to $5 million for startup companies that are interested in developing applications and technologies for graphics processing units.

On March 10, Nvidia is formally announcing its GPU Ventures Program, which looks to invest between $500,000 and $5 million in small, startup companies that are working with or want to work with GPU technology. These companies can be developing new types of applications for either the consumer and gaming markets or using GPU technology for creating scientific and high-performance computer applications.

Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development for Nvidia, told eWEEK that Nvidia had been investing in other companies interested in GPU technology for a number of years, but Nvidia decided to formally announce this program now.

"We have been making investments in this space, and we deiced that these companies need our help more than ever," said Herbst. "VC [venture capital] funding is still there, but it's not as liquid as it was six to 12 months ago. The companies themselves are trying operate on a leaner and meaner basis, so we think we can be really helpful being a distribution channel and give them marketing support and visibility."

In addition to the money it plans to invest in a handful of companies this year, Nvidia plans to work with various venture capital funds to have them also invest in these companies. In the past several years, Nvidia has invested in a number of other companies, including Keyhole, which Google eventually bought, and Mental Images, which Nvidia first invested in and then acquired outright.

Nvidia plans to invest in between three and five companies each year. This depends on the overall health of the economy and Nvidia's financial outlook. (Nvidia, like other chip makers, has suffered financial setbacks due to the recent economic downturn.)

The announcement from Nvidia comes at a time when the tech industry has been hit hard by the recession in the United States and the overall slowdown of the global economy. Even tech stalwarts such as IBM and Microsoft have begun eliminating workers, although these companies have said they still plan to invest in research and development. In a sense, Nvidia is using this opportunity to reinforce the company's goal of investing in GPU technologies even during rough economic times.

At the same time, Nvidia is looking to build up its business to compete against Intel. For years, Intel has built an ecosystem around its CPUs and its x86 microarchitecture through investing in companies dedicated to that type of technology. By offering money in these lean times, Nvidia is looking to do the same.

Nvidia is also looking to show that the GPU is as viable as the CPU in solving new types of computing problems, especially when it comes to creating software to take advantage of multicore chip designs.

Recently, Intel and Nvidia have clashed in court about Nvidia's right to make chip sets for processors based on Intel's Nehalem microarchitecture. The fight between the two shows how Nvidia and Intel view the future of computing and what role GPUs will play compared with traditional x86-based CPUs.

"This is really about building up ecosystems around the GPU," said Herbst. "It's also about how the GPU platform is going to become the heart and soul of the new PC, as our CEO Jen Hsun-Huang calls it. There has never been a better time to amp our investment around it. If you think about it, the GPU using our CUDA [Compute Unified Device Architecture] architecture and other technologies allows people to do things with graphics processors that could not have been envisioned or executed just a few years ago."

However, Herbst pointed out that while Nvidia is encouraging development on the GPU, it's not trying to limit companies to its own graphics technology. In other words, a company working with Advanced Micro Devices' ATI graphics chip is also eligible for this investment.

In addition to the seed money, Nvidia is planning to launch a new Web site called Venture Zone, which will showcase the work of companies working with GPU technology. Nvidia also plans to expand its Emerging Companies Summit.