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Altman Transfers Control of OpenAI Startup Fund

ByHuey Yee Ong

Apr 3, 2024
Altman Transfers Control of OpenAI Startup Fund

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has transferred control of the OpenAI Startup Fund to Ian Hathaway. This decision, detailed in reports from both TechCrunch and Reuters, resolves a unique and potentially problematic venture structure that had placed Altman at the helm of the fund since its inception in 2021.

Initially, the fund, with Altman as its named controller, was established as a mechanism to invest in early-stage AI-driven companies, focusing on sectors such as healthcare, law, and education. The arrangement was designed as a temporary setup, and it was clarified that Altman did not make personal investments nor had any financial interest in the fund, aiming to avoid any conflict of interest, especially considering his brief ouster in November.

Ian Hathaway Steps In

Ian Hathaway, who has been with OpenAI since 2021 and previously an investor with Haystack, now takes over the fund. Hathaway has already played a significant role within the fund, leading investments in several startups, including Ambience Healthcare, Cursor, Harvey, and Speak. His leadership is expected to continue the fund’s focus on pioneering AI technologies.

Under Altman’s initial direction, the fund raised $175 million in commitments from investors including Microsoft, achieving a gross net asset value of $325 million, according to an SEC filing. The fund has made investments in at least 16 startups, highlighting its role in the AI innovation ecosystem. Notable investments include Descript, a collaborative editing platform valued at $553 million last year, and Ghost Autonomy, a developer of autonomous driving software.

Strategic Shift in Governance

The restructuring was prompted by the unusual nature of the fund’s original setup, where Altman, despite being a high-profile figure, raised the fund from outside limited partners and made investment decisions, an arrangement that drew attention for its deviation from typical corporate venture models. This change, as documented in a March 29 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), underscores OpenAI’s commitment to clear governance and ethical practices in its investment activities.

This transition of control aligns with OpenAI’s broader goals and principles, particularly in terms of investment in AI technologies. Hathaway’s expertise and previous success in managing the fund’s accelerator program and leading various investments point towards a strategic continuity and growth of OpenAI’s venture capital endeavors.

How Is OpenAI Ensuring Ethical Investment Practices?

OpenAI’s clarification that Altman had no financial interest in the fund and the appointment of Hathaway as the new controller provides further clarity and structure to the fund’s operations. This move is seen as a step towards enhancing the fund’s integrity and transparency, ensuring it remains a significant player in supporting AI-driven startups.

Sam Altman’s diverse investment interests and significant roles in the tech ecosystem, including his presidency at Y Combinator, have made him a notable figure in venture capital and technology innovation. Following his temporary departure from OpenAI, an independent investigation concluded no wrongdoing on his part in terms of product safety or the company’s finances, reinforcing the ethical standards upheld by OpenAI.

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Featured Image courtesy of David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.

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