Softbank Plows $100M Into Latin American Venture

Japanese Internet investor Softbank Corp. announced today that it will continue its aggressive global push by launching a $100 million (US$) fund aimed at the Latin American market.

The Tokyo-based company is expected to launch the new Softbank Latin American Ventures fund later this month. The venture marks the company’s first foray into the nascent Latin American Internet market.

A Softbank executive said in published reports that the fund will not focus on any one sector of the market, but will take a broader look at a region that is being closely scrutinized by other large Internet investors as well.

Chase Capital Partners and eQuest, a fund owned by Toronto-based Seagram Co.’s Edgar Bronfman, are said to be actively looking at potential investments in the region.

Competition Home and Abroad

A number of Spanish language portals have sprung up in recent months, and AOL and Yahoo! have both dedicated resources to grabbing a share of the market. Many of the U.S.-based sites are geared toward Spanish-speaking Americans as well, while Latin American-based sites like Yupi, El Sitio, and Star Media Network tend to offer more localized content and commerce.

Earlier today, Mexico’s Televisa, the largest Spanish language media company, announced plans to spend $80 million this year to launch a portal by the end of June.

The long-anticipated move did not surprise investors or analysts, but the fact that the company decided to launch the site without strategic partners did. Many observers thought that it would link up with Mexico’s national telephone company and Microsoft. Televisa said it is not ruling out future joint ventures or acquisitions.

Spanning the Globe

Softbank has been on an international expansion binge for some time now. In the last month alone, the company’s investment affiliates have invested $50 million in the legal services and information site Law.com and have taken an 80 percent stake in a $100 million fund to fund Internet start-ups in Korea.

Softbank has also been working with the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) on their joint venture to get the Nasdaq Japan stock exchange off the ground. In December, the two said they expect it to be operational and making trades by June or July.

Best known for its investments in Yahoo!, E*TRADE and Ziff-Davis, Softbank has equity stakes in some 100 other Internet companies. The company booked revenue of $4.38 billion last year.

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