Comcast Ventures traces its roots back to the peak of the dot-com era: 1999. Allison Goldberg joined during the COVID era, in 2021, amidst a significant reshaping of the $121 billion media company’s investing arm.
We spoke with Goldberg, the Managing Partner at Comcast Ventures, about how the corporate venture capital business is changing in 2023, and how her team works to connect startups to the broader organization.
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A different venture market. The venture market has definitely shifted over the past year… Just across the board, [there’s] less activity from a deal number and dollar standpoint. For me, it was a great first year and a half, because I really got to get to know the portfolio really well. … And we made a bunch of investments last year, both follow-ons and a few new investments as well. It was obviously not the crazy hype venture market of 2020 and 2021. But it was a good start for me…
We have a dual mission. It’s both looking for investments that we think will provide good financial returns, [and] looking for companies that are innovating in spaces that we think are interesting for Comcast. That part is really about an innovation pipeline for our company. What insights can we get into these adjacent industries? We want to learn about new disruptive technologies; we want to learn about new business models; we want to get close to those entrepreneurs. That brings innovation into our company.
[In terms of] what we provide to founders and companies, it’s not just capital. We’re also providing these connections in to people all across Comcast and NBCU. That’s a big part of our mission as well.
Connecting startups to the broader organization. We love to talk to people around the company all the time and hear [about] what are the things they’re looking for. What are the technologies that can help them solve problems, or… technologies they’re interested in for launching new businesses, for example. … At the same time, we’re sending companies to them, to help us evaluate and to talk about partnership opportunities and things like that. And the Comcast Ventures group has a number of things we do in terms of sharing insights and highlighting companies [we’ve invested in.] We will do “sector spotlights” every quarter, and bring in three to four startups to just present what they’re doing. [Those are held online, and they reach] a pretty big audience of people at our company.
We send around a VC insights and VC deal activity quarterly report to a wide range of people across the company. We do beginning-of-the-year strategy sessions around focus areas, and what’s interesting for people.
I also oversee startup engagement, which encompasses two accelerator programs that we have. One is called Lift Labs. And the other one is called Comcast NBCU SportsTech.
This year, we’re focused on five different categories: digital health, future of work, energy and sustainability, prop tech [real estate and property related technologies], and then enabling technologies…
Focus areas. This year, we’re focused on five different categories: digital health, future of work, energy and sustainability, prop tech [real estate and property related technologies], and then enabling technologies as a big bucket. That encompasses things like gaming technology, cybersecurity, AI, [and] blockchain. … In that energy and sustainability space, we invested in a company called Populus [which provides data related to transportation.] In the gaming tech space, we were big investors in Players’ Lounge [which facilitates betting on videogame competitions.] And then in AI, our most recent investment is in a company called Hume. They are working on a model to determine human emotion from a bunch of signals, including audio, video, the text of what you’re saying, and speech prosody, which is how you’re saying what you’re saying. So they look at a bunch of different inputs to try to figure that out.
Building strong relationships and co-investing with other VCs. I think [it comes] from time and experience of being on boards of people, honestly, and working with people in a meaningful way on companies, and then showing your value. The more time you spend, and more boards you’re on together, and can see how you work together, then you’ll likely share deals together more.
But that’s not the only way to find interesting investments, right? Because we’re so sector-focused, we’ll do deep dives on particular sectors and then go reach out to companies directly. So we’re not always relying on other VCs to show us their deals. That’s a great deal source, but also we’re super proactive, going out and finding the deals ourselves.
Building a good reputation in corporate venture. Part of that is how you work with your portfolio companies. So not just the writing of the first check, but then showing up and being present for those companies when things are great. And also when things are not so great… providing really good guidance and help across the board for the portfolio companies, I think that’s really important. And in the harder times, it’s even more important [when] the venture market’s more difficult. … As any investor, not just a corporate investor.
Changing dynamics in 2023. I think the [funding] round sizes are going to start to come back [down]. Valuations are going to start coming back to pre-2021 levels. And as in-person comes back more, [there] is more time for diligence, more time to spend with these companies. … Before people were doing quick Zooms, and then writing checks pretty fast. I’ve been investing for a long time, and I think [what we’re seeing now is] more typical to how I used to look at investments in the past, which is spending a lot of time with the team doing due diligence on the business model, the competitive set, the product, the financial model.
Then, there’s certain sectors, like AI, for instance, [that are] really hot. Lots of rounds [are] getting done and big checks [are being written.]
The newest sector we’re looking at. One we’re thinking about in the ventures group is definitely the generative AI topic, and how it can be applied broadly. We just find it really interesting and disruptive technology. So we’re trying to think through which companies are most interesting for us, and spending a lot of time there.