Google's own venture capital arm has entered a partnership with two other investment firms to find and finance entrepreneurs who want to create applications and other accessories for Google Glass, an Internet-connected device that is setting out to turn wearable computing into the latest fashion trend.
The other two venture capital firms in the partnership announced on Wednesday are Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz. Both have track records for backing startups that turn into prominent technology companies.
Kleiner Perkins' long list of past investments includes Google Inc, when it was just a year old, and Web browser pioneer Netscape Communications, co-founded by Andreessen Horowitz partner Marc Andreessen.
Meanwhile, Andreessen Horowitz's successes include early investments in Facebook Inc and Twitter.
The formation of the Glass Collective is likely to heighten the anticipation surrounding Google Glass, a product that Google co-founder Sergey Brin and a team of company engineers have been building during the past two years.
The firms are pledging to work together to arrange seed funding ranging from $250,000 to $2 million to support ideas for software and other gear built for Google Glass, even though the device isn't expected to be released to the mass market until next year. The venture capitalists also will ensure the entrepreneurs get expert advice from the likes of Andreessen and other technology veterans.
"Any entrepreneur working with us is going to get triple the feedback, investment and support," said Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures. "This is going to be an unprecedented level of cooperation."
When Maris saw Brin's first prototype, he said "It was kind of a cellphone duct taped through a pair of sunglasses".
Since then, Google Glass has been refined into a pair of lightweight, stylish frames equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display screen attached to a rim above the right eye. The device is supposed to perform many of the same tasks as smartphones, except Google Glass responds to voice commands instead of fingers touching a display screen.
An "Explorer" version of the device will soon be distributed to computer programmers who paid $1,500 apiece for the product. Google also recently completed a contest that will distribute Google Glass to 8,000 US residents, who also will have to pay $1,500 apiece for the device.
Both Andreessen and Maris likened the potential breakthroughs that could be unleashed by Google Glass to the new frontiers opened by the 1993 release of the Mosaic Web browser, which Andreessen helped develop while a student at the University of Illinois. That technology hatched Netscape, the world's first commercial browser. It made the Internet more accessible and appealing by making it easy to obtain information simply by clicking links.
"Every once in a while, one of these things comes along and you go, 'Whoa, that looks like it's the future,'" Andreessen said. He envisions many of the early Google Glass products to be highly specialized applications catering to health care, stock market trading, retailing and emergency services, where hands-free computing will be especially useful.
"This is putting a stake in the ground saying, `It's time for entrepreneurs to start thinking about this,'" Andreessen said.
All the firms in the Glass Collective are betting that the device will create a thriving ecosystem for software applications and other related products, similar to what has happened with the iPhone, iPad and mobile devices running Google's Android operating system.
In 2008, Kleiner Perkins earmarked $200 million to invest in startups building applications for the iPhone. Then in 2010, Kleiner Perkins set aside $250 million for investments in startups creating services that tie into Facebook and other websites set up to help people share content.
It's still too early in Google Glass' development to establish a similar fund devoted exclusively to the device, said John Doerr, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins and a member of Google's board of directors. With the collective, the venture-capital firms aren't setting aside a specific amount of money, but will pool resources to help fund interesting projects as they come up.
"We don't know how fast this platform is going to grow," Doerr said of Google Glass. "But we do know great platforms are rare. Maybe our three venture firms will be ridiculed for doing this, but we will take the heat."