IBM's Venture Capital Group increases aid to startups

IBM is ramping up its efforts to help startups bring products to market

IBM's Venture Capital Group) is ramping up its efforts to help startups bring products to market by enhancing access to the computer giant's technology and expertise.

For the past seven years, the vendor's venture capital group has taken a unique approach to working with startups; instead of investing directly in young companies, IBM consults with established venture capital firms to identify entrepreneurs with offerings that would fit within IBM's technology framework. IBM then strikes partnerships with those venture capitalists and young companies, offering them guidance, advice, access to technology, and sales and marketing support.

On Thursday, the group announced enhancements to this partnership program that, via its 32 innovation centers around the world, offers partnering startups access to IBM technology and customized technical and strategic support at no charge, says Drew Clark, director of strategy and co-founder of IBM's Venture Capital Group.

Offering such support in new technology areas where IBM has expertise such as virtualization, service-oriented architecture, software-as-a-service, blade servers and Web 2.0 will help startups to better compete in the marketplace, he says.

For example, if a partnering startup is building an application that it wants to work with virtualization but doesn't have access to systems for development and testing, the startup could physically or virtually collaborate with one of IBM's centers and not only get access to the necessary systems, but also ask questions and receive advice about the advanced technology, Clark says.

Such collaboration results in higher-quality products that come to market more quickly and target real business needs, he says.

IBM's innovation centers offer partnering startups a loaner program, via remote access, to IBM services, operating systems and middleware for development and testing; virtual workshops about IBM hardware and software; access to IBM's sales force for help with closing deals and an array of marketing resources.

Other large vendors including Cisco, Microsoft and HP offer similar services to the startups they invest in and that are developing products complimentary to their own. IBM maintains its partnership program is much more comprehensive than those offered by other vendors, particularly in the application space because IBM is no longer in that business and looks to its partners to fill those gaps in its technology portfolio.

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