SAN FRANCISCO, March 10 Reuters) - Nvidia (NVDA.O) plans to launch a program to invest in and spur development of up-and-coming graphics technologies and start-ups globally, hoping to shore up the firm's lead in a highly competitive graphics card arena.
The firm's worldwide GPU Ventures Program will fund and advise start-ups developing businesses around graphics processing, said Jeff Herbst, Nvidia's vice president of business development.
Nvidia, which competes with Advanced Micro Devices AMD.N subsidiary ATI, has funded start-ups before. Now, executives say they want to formalize and expand the process with a full-scale program.
Nvidia said on Tuesday it will invest from $500,000 to $5 million in, and provide marketing support for, companies working on consumer and professional applications ranging from video and image enhancement to scientific discovery, financial analysis and three-dimensional interfaces.
In exchange, Nvidia will take minority stakes in the companies when appropriate, Herbst said. But, he stressed, the program's main goal is to spur uses of Nvidia's graphics processing units.
Executives said such investments will boost the number of applications running off the firm's stable of products, while potentially augmenting their own technology.
"Start-up companies need to be leaner and meaner in this new economic environment," Herbst said.
"The more applications there are in the world that support the GPU, the bigger the total market there's going to be for people like Nvidia."
There would be no cap on the number of companies that could participate in the program, but Herbst said it was likely to fall in the same range as last year, or about five companies.
Previous investments made by Nvidia included Keyhole Corp, which Google (GOOG.O) eventually acquired, and Mental Images, which Nvidia itself bought, the firm said in its statement.
To draw out potential start-ups, NVIDIA plans to host its second annual Emerging Companies Summit this fall.
(Reporting by Janet Kornblum; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)