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Project Sand Hill: Googles Unknown Campaign to Track the Worlds Hottest Startups

Google calls it Project Sand Hill.

Since 2012, Suman Prasad and his team have worked with various Silicon Valley venture capital firms to identify “rocketship” startups before they truly take off, and they help plug them into the Google machine. They help them build apps for Android telephones, hook into Android Pay, and make use of countless other Google services, from Google Maps to Google ads. Prasad started the project in his Google” 20 Percent Time ,” but it has since grown into something much bigger. He’s now director of startups and VC partnerships, and at any given time, Project Sand Hill now serves a good 100 US startups, plus about 30 abroad, including places like Israel, India, and China.

Google also runs its own venture capital arm, GV, but it wants another way of tracking the ever-changing tech landscape–and maintaining its increasingly enormous company at the forefront of innovation.” The velocity at which startups run from being a small startup to becoming a material company was accelerating ,” Prasad tells.” We wanted to partner up with companies before they came up with the next big thing .”

As it continues to evolve from Silicon Valley disruptor into corporate giant, Google is looking for just about any way of maintaining itself at the cutting edge. It has even reorganized itself into a new company. Alphabet is a way of cultivating the company’s internal “moonshots,” and Project Sand Hill is a way of maintaining as close as possible to moonshots on the outside. In the end, this may be a track to strategic acquisitions. Plus, it can help maintain the profile of all those well-established Google technologies, like Android and Maps. This kind of thing is common practice across the tech world. Apple just opened a new accelerator in India “ve been meaning to” drive new iOS apps in the country.

Current members of the program include ticketing platform Eventbrite, fitness-focused My Fitness Pal, and the last-minute hotel booking company Hotel Tonight. And according to Google, eleven Project Sand Hill companies have become “unicorns” — -startups valued at over a billion dollars–since joining the program, including Eventbrite, Houzz and Lyft. About half of the participating companies have gone on to raise an additional $7.5 billion in funding.

Google wants another way of tracking the ever-changing tech landscapeand maintaining its increasingly enormous company at the forefront of innovation.

But where the program may be most useful is overseas. For Google–like so many other American tech companies–the big growth opportunity is in places like India and, merely maybe, China, which has so very many people but is traditionally unfriendly to American tech companies. The best way into China is to partner with a Chinese company.

Is this a good thing for the startups on the other side of the equation? It is, tells Rouz Jazayeri, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, who introduced Google to My Fitness Pal. Initially, he was skeptical, but he rapidly considered the value.” It delivered on its promise ,” he tells.” We had direct relationships and direct participation with multiple product groups inside Google, and the company attained that happen within a very short time frame .” This includes the teams operating Google Fit, Android Wear, and Google Play. According to Mike Lee, the company’s CEO, it also got early access to new developer tools and advice on how to optimize Google ads.

That merely shows you how much Google values these relationships. If companies use its services, it watches, at the least to a certain extent, where they’re going. It gets a lay of the land. This is the same side-benefit of operating a cloud computing service: a window into the wide marketplace. When you get big, you want as many of those windows as you can find.

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