Bill Ford

Bill Ford: Venture capitalist

June 28, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

The Ford chairman has a surprising side project: funding ideas that could ease car congestion.

A few years ago the CEO of Ford Motor, Bill Ford, began pushing the company to be more sensitive to the environment. The result: The automaker today produces five different hybrid models that help reduce gas consumption and pollution. Now Ford, currently executive chairman of the car company, has turned his attention to another byproduct of the proliferation of cars: traffic and global congestion. But instead of using the muscle of the corporation that bears his family's name, Ford is tackling the problem using his personal wealth and investment savvy.

Earlier this year Ford and two friends, Ralph Booth and Mark Schulz, launched Fontinalis Partners, which aims to invest in technology companies that can help alleviate the problems that come from having more cars on the road than the local infrastructure can handle. "You are really seeing the limits to congestion in big cities," Ford tells Fortune in an exclusive interview. "And as we looked harder at the problem, it was clear there were lots of interesting technologies and applications that I thought could address this issue."

Fontinalis (a nod to the Latin for "brook trout") is looking to fund companies that use data to make us smarter drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians. The firm's first investment, Atlanta-based Parkmobile, has developed an application for smartphones that helps drivers find available parking spots and allows them to use the handset to pay for parking. Finding parking more easily may not seem like a solution for global congestion, but on average 30% of all traffic in cities worldwide is caused by people driving around looking for parking, according to a 2007 UCLA study.

The Fontinalis partnership isn't structured like a typical venture capital or private equity fund, so investors in Fontinalis will change from deal to deal. The firm will make investments of all sizes in companies all over the world. And while the Fontinalis partners are hoping for VC-size returns on their investments, Ford insists that that isn't their only motive: "We realize it's a lot more fun when you are actually doing something that helps make the world a better place."

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