IBM to open up innovation centers to startups, VCs

IBM is opening up its Innovation Centers to VC-backed startups as a way to work closely with the firms early on and encourage them to use IBM products.

IBM is making another move to strengthen ties with global IT start-ups and their venture capital backers, providing special access to the technical experts and products housed in IBM Innovation Centers.

IBM runs 32 Innovation Centers worldwide, offering training, testing and support facilities for the company's partners and customers in relation to IBM hardware, software and services. The vendor has eight centres in the Americas, 18 in Europe and the Middle East, and six in Asia-Pacific, with the most recent opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

IBM plans to open its thirty-third Innovation Center in Dublin, Ireland, next week, according to director of strategy for IBM's Venture Capital Group, Drew Clark. The company would also open its European Venture Capital Center at the same time on the same site as the Dublin Innovation Center, he said.

VC-backed start-ups gave IBM feedback that they wanted more access to the company's technologies, Clark said. The idea was to give the start-ups free access on the product side to emerging technologies such as IBM's blade servers and its Cell processor and to offer the companies ways to develop and test their software against IT set-ups that might not exist within their own regions.

All the centres are linked via grid software so that once a developer's software has been uploaded to the IBM system in one location, it's easy to distribute to other centres.

IBM can give start-ups free advice on how best to approach markets outside their home countries. For instance, how a company in China can sell its offerings in the US, Clark said. Start-ups can also talk to IBM's technical architects face-to-face in the centres or remotely from their phones or computers to take advantage of their specific areas of expertise.

What IBM gets out of the tighter relationship with VC-backed start-ups is access to developing companies.

"It's the sweet spot for IBM," Clark said. "It's early enough that we can have some influence over companies."

IBM can encourage the start-ups to join its partner programs and to use more of its hardware, software and services.

Another interesting benefit to IBM is seeing how different geographies adopt newer technologies.

"We can spot trends and understand very early on what the software's doing," Clark said. The early insight helps IBM get a better handle on which technologies it needs to make available to users in the future. "It's a very nice virtuous cycle."

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