AKRON—Goodyear is hoping for more than a traditional return on investment with its new $100 million venture capital fund, Goodyear Ventures.
In fact, the company considers the investment to be part of its research and development efforts. That's probably made most apparent by the fact that Goodyear put a former chemical engineer—Erin Spring—rather than a financial person, at the helm.
Spring has the master's of business administration one might expect a fund manager to have, but her past job titles at Goodyear include manager of customer-centered innovation and chief engineer of applied physical metrology. She joined Goodyear in 2004 as a development engineer, global materials science.
If that doesn't tell you the new effort is aimed at gaining access to new technologies, she made it clear in a recent interview with Crain's Cleveland Business.
"The majority is for strategic purposes," she said when asked about the fund's goals and objectives. "It's more about investing in new technology that will provide new solutions to current and future customers.
"We invest in R&D every year, and we see this as no different. It's another way for us to invest in building out new products and solutions."
That's not to say the company doesn't want to make a profit from its new fund at the same time. Spring said that only after doing its due diligence will Goodyear make investments it thinks will bring it a positive return—just like any other venture capital firm.
But when the venture capitalist is a company the size and scale of Goodyear, with 64,000 employees and annual sales of more than $15 billion, there likely are many potential partnership opportunities with both target companies and co-investors.
Access to technology that may mean little to most financial investors could have huge value for Goodyear.
The company intends to look worldwide for such opportunities, Spring said, but will start at home.
"As a global organization, we're always looking globally at potential partnerships. For Goodyear Ventures, in the first year we'll focus in the U.S., and then we'll look to expand into other regions," she said.
Though she declined to set limits on the size of an investment the company might make, Spring said that, like most venture funds, Goodyear most often will take a minority stake in the companies in which it invests, but it won't limit itself to that.
"As we look at different opportunities and assess them and how they fit with Goodyear Ventures, we'll make that decision," she said.
The entire effort is part of Goodyear's strategic plan to be a major player in what it calls the mobility market, which includes not only electric vehicles and self-driving cars and trucks now under development, but materials used to make vehicles more sustainable, connectivity technologies being applied to vehicles, new types of mass transport and the infrastructure needed to support the new technologies. The company even will look at "personal and 'ride-share' aircraft and systems that reduce congestion and save time," according to Goodyear Ventures' website.