by CIO Staff

IBM to Open Innovation Centers to Startups, VCs

Sep 21, 20063 mins

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

The vendor is due to make the announcement Thursday at its Venture Capital Symposium at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. The symposium brings together venture capitalists (VCs), the startups they fund and IBM staff.

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 centers 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 Drew Clark, director of strategy for IBM’s Venture Capital Group. The company will also open its European Venture Capital Center at the same time on the same site as the Dublin Innovation Center, he said.

VC-backed startups gave IBM feedback that they wanted more access to the company’s technologies, Clark said. The idea is to give the startups 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 may not exist within their own regions.

All the centers 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 centers.

IBM can give startups 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 U.S., Clark said. Startups also can talk to IBM’s technical architects either face-to-face in the centers 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 startups 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 startups 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. For instance, in China, the platform of choice to use Web 2.0 software like social networking, blogs and wikis is a mobile handset, not a PC running a Web browser as is the case in the U.S.

“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,” he added.

-China Martens, IDG News Service (Boston Bureau)

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