STOCKHOLM - Nokia Growth Partners, the venture- capital arm of the Finnish phonemaker, plans to invest in California startup Pelican Imaging to win back customers from Apple and Android devices with cameras that give greater depth and ease of splicing together images.
The Pelican investment is part of a push to differentiate Nokia as it tries to stimulate demand in its Lumia smartphones, which run Microsoft's Windows software, to reverse falling sales and recover market share.
Lumia sales rose to 5.6 million in the first quarter, up from 4.4 million in the previous three months. Still, Apple and Android-based devices control more than 90 percent of the smartphone market to Espoo, Finland-based Nokia's 3 percent, according to researcher Strategy Analytics. Imaging quality is one of the top three reasons to buy or return a phone, and as Nokia phones are known for their cameras, it's seen as a good leverage point, according to Nokia Growth Partners.
Array cameras, which use multiple optics and mesh the data into one image, "are on the cusp of being commercialized and Pelican does software for that," Bo Ilsoe, a partner at Nokia Growth Partners, said in a phone interview from California. "It's very complicated to do this algorithmically and Pelican is one of the companies that has mastered this technology."
Nokia Growth Partners has been tracking Mountain View-based Pelican since soon after its founding in 2008, Ilsoe said. Pelican also counts Globespan Capital Partners, Granite Ventures, InterWest Partners and IQT among its private-equity investors, according to its website.
Nokia, which bought Lund, Sweden-based imaging-software maker Scalado last July, released the 41-megapixel 808 PureView last year and is incorporating the technology in smartphones including the flagship Lumia 920. Nokia Growth Partners has also invested in Menlo Park, Calif.-based image-sensing technology company InVisage Technologies Inc. and micro-optics maker Heptagon, headquartered in Singapore, to bolster its capabilities.
Nokia Growth Partners has around $600 million under management. It's made two other investments from its latest $250 million fund. Typical investments are between $4 million to $7 million and are usually capped at about $15 million. It expects to invest in as many as six other companies this year, Ilsoe said.
"Over the next three to five years, mobile enterprise and advertising will be areas we'll continue to invest around," he said. "We build a portfolio and a better in-depth understanding of ecosystems by having this approach."