SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft has launched a venture capital fund that will invest in companies advancing cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

Microsoft Ventures will open offices here as well as in Seattle, New York and Tel Aviv, according to a blog post Tuesday from corporate vice president Nagraj Kashyap, who will run the new investment fund along with Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president for business development.

The move is an echo of existing funds operated by Google, Intel and others, which allow such giants to get in on the ground floor of of companies that can boosts their particular ecosystems. For example, Google has been particularly focused on deploying capital in the virtual and augmented reality space, with investments in companies such as Jaunt VR, AltSpace VR and secretive AR outfit Magic Leap.

Microsoft will be focused on startups that complement its Azure cloud platform (second only to Amazon’s AWS in global revenue), enhance Windows and HoloLens experiences, and build applications that improve Office 365.

“We’re not aiming to hit a specific number of investments annually, but you should expect steady activity over the course of the year,” Kashyap wrote. “In addition, and on a more horizontal axis, you should expect to see us invest in companies who are doing work in the areas for machine learning and security.”

Both Kashyap and Johnson are veterans of Qualcomm, where Kashyap headed that company’s venture arm for 12 years before joining Microsoft in January. At Qualcomm, Kashyap was behind a robotics accelerator as well as a global business plan contest called the QPrize.

Microsoft Ventures is aimed at filling a corporate gap between Microsoft Accelerator, which provides seed investment in smaller startups, and the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s major acquisitions and ventures. Microsoft recently announced it was partnering with Facebook to lay a cable beneath the Atlantic in a quest to get ahead of the world’s growing bandwidth demand.

Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has continue to radically re-make itself as a mobile- and cloud-first company that has pivoted away from its traditional licensed software model and, more recently, a one-time mission to be a player in the mobile handset space with its dismantling of a beleaguered Nokia acquisition.

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter: @marcodellacava