France Telecom-Orange has partnered with digital agency Publicis Groupe and Iris Capital Management to create a venture capital programme to invest in digital businesses in Europe.

Orange and Publicis will contribute a combined EUR150 million into the fund which will be added to another EUR150 million from existing Iris investors, which include the European Investment Fund and French public investor CDC Enterprises.

“This joint initiative… complements Orange’s considerable effort in terms of research and development, and it will encourage the emergence of future leaders of the digital economy by bringing them funds at several stages of their development,” said France Telecom-Orange chairman and CEO Stéphane Richard.

Three funds will be created with the investment. OP Ventures Growth will target established companies in Europe with up to EUR15 million per project; OP Ventures Global will invest up to the same amount in start-ups outside Europe; while OP Venture Early Stage will provide seed capital of up to EUR3 million to the newest companies in Europe. The first two funds are already operating, with OP Ventures Early Stage due to come on stream in the second quarter of the year.

The deal also sees Orange and Publicis each acquire a minority 24.5 percent stake in Iris, with the management of the Paris-based group retaining 51 percent. Orange deputy CEO Gervais Pellissier will become deputy chairman of the Iris supervisory board with Publicis chairman and CEO Maurice Lévy becoming chairman.

 “This is an exceptional opportunity for a European venture player. The financial contribution and value-added that Orange and Publicis Groupe will bring to this initiative will considerably reinforce our ability to accompany budding companies in the digital economy,” added Iris managing partners Antoine Garrigues and Pierre de Fouquet.