Arthur Andersen Aims VC Fund at E-Commerce

Chicago, Illinois-based Arthur Andersen has become the first of the “Big Five” accounting firms to take direct aim at Internet startup companies by launching a $500 million (US$) venture capital fund.

The announcement comes one month after sister company Andersen Consulting unveiled its own $1 billion worldwide initiative to fund Internet startups.

Importantly, while announcing the new venture, the company was quick to state that it will abide by the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — which bars conflicts of interest involving auditing-firm employees owning investments in publicly-held audit clients.

The up-front disclosure is in response to assertions by critics that accounting firms are part of the old-line conservative U.S. economy and are not necessarily in a position to adequately judge profit potential of Internet startups.

Concentration on B2B

The new venture capital company will be called Arthur Andersen Ventures and will focus its energies and finances on business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, new media and Internet services. The company will probably make 20 investments this year, using only money generated from Arthur Andersen.

Dick Poladian, managing partner at Arthur Andersen in Los Angeles, will head up the new operation. According to Poladian, much of the capital will be invested in California-based companies. The company reasons that California is still the hub of the technology and entertainment industries, and the most likely place to invest in startups.

The new venture will work through an alliance with U.S. Venture Partners, a California-based venture capital company that has more than $1.5 billion invested. Andersen will take an active role in selecting companies in which to invest.

Arthur Andersen has taken a proactive role in the Internet economy, particularly through its “100 Days to Market” program that helps established businesses and startups create an e-commerce presence. Clients include such high-profile names as Autobytel.com, Stamps.com and Jewelry.com, among several others.

No Sign of Slowing Down

Arthur Andersen’s foray into the field of providing venture capital for new Internet businesses is another sign that funding for e-commerce is still considered a viable investment. Also, the presence of a Big Five accounting firm in the field lends e-commerce added credibility.

Venture capital firms are taking increasingly high risks with Internet companies. The median investment in Internet companies jumped to $9 million in the middle of 1999, up from $5 million just one year prior.

Although big technology companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft have been aggressive in their efforts to capitalize new Internet ventures, the move by Arthur Andersen could signal a new trend among traditional U.S. companies to lay odds on the success of e-commerce ventures.

Reportedly, accounting firms such as Ernst and Young are considering similar ventures.

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