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Qatar Fund building venture capital unit for US startups

[DOHA] Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, famous for investments in London's Shard and Tiffany & Co., is quietly expanding its venture capital unit to invest in US startups, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Qatar Investment Authority, created to handle the windfall from the country's gas and oil exports, has invested in companies including Foursquare Labs Inc., biotech firm Rubius Therapeutics Inc., Homology Medicines Inc., Thoughtspot Inc. and Grail Inc., said the people, asking not to be identified because the deals are private. They didn't disclose the value or timing of these investments.

The QIA is better known for its trophy assets, such as holdings in Hollywood, London residential property and global banks, rather than its technology investments even after investing US$100 million in Uber Technologies Inc. in 2014. Saudi Arabia has since grabbed the spotlight for technology deals after pumping US$3.5 billion into Uber and allocating US$45 billion to SoftBank Group Corp.'s Vision Fund.

A spokeswoman for Rubius confirmed that QIA is an investor. Representatives for Foursquare, Thoughtspot and Homology declined to comment on shareholder stakes, while Grail and QIA didn't respond to emailed questions.

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Appetite for Risk

Still, the QIA's growing investments in startups and the appointment of two royals in their 30s to run the US$320 billion fund, marks a growing appetite for risk. The fund in 2017 said it would open an office in San Francisco to focus on the technology industry.

So far, some of these investments are proving successful. Homology Medicines and Rubius both went public this year and are valued at about US$900 million and US$1.3 billion, respectively, after raising a combined US$411 million from investors, according to their offering prospectuses.

Foursquare Labs is on track to hit US$100 million in revenue this year, while Grail is weighing an initial public offering. The cancer-testing startup backed by two of the world's richest men is one of the world's most highly-valued biotechnology startups, with a private valuation of about US$3.2 billion, according to data from Pitchbook.