French telecom giant Orange yesterday announced it is launching a new startup investment fund called Digital Ventures in a bid to find and work with early-stage technology companies in Europe.

Tthe operator, which has 240 million customers, said it will back entrepreneurs with €20 million (£15 million) over the next year, adding that it hopes to “get closer to companies that are agile at grasping and acting on technology shifts vital to the creation of tomorrow’s digital services.”

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Orange said it is particularly keen to identify and finance startups working in the fields of communication, connectivity, the cloud, payment, intertnet of things and big data, ehealth and security services.

The company said that it will be making “minority investments” in companies located in regions where Orange has a presence. 

While Orange did not reveal who will lead the fund, it did say there will be a “dedicated team of digital specialists”.

The company said: “Orange Digital Ventures will be more than a shareholder; it is designed to be a growth catalyst. The immediate priority is on the economic development of the portfolio companies and their global expansion. The ambition for Orange Digital Ventures is to work alongside them to transform far-sighted, talented entrepreneurs into key players in their chosen markets and in so doing, benefit Orange and its customers.  

“Orange, as an investor and catalyst, will benefit participating startups through its  international commercial footprint and its reputation.  Entrepreneurs will be able to develop technical or commercial relationships through access to Orange experts and decision-makers.”

Orange has made forays into the venture funding industry before. In 2012, the company announced a $400 million fund in partnership with advertising goliath Publicis and French investment manager Iris. Prior to that it also funded music streaming service Deezer and online video firm DailyMotion.

It also partnered with French oil and gas giant Total and train operator SNCF to launch Ecomobilité Ventures, a €30 million investment company established to promote sustainable mobility.

In the UK, Orange falls under the EE umbrella along with T-Mobile. However, in France, it operates independently. 

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