by Kim Girard

CIOs Steer Venture Capitalists’ Moves

Feb 15, 20043 mins
IT Leadership

At New Enterprise Associates’ first CIO powwow last summer, top IT execs from companies such as ChevronTexaco, Marriott International and Safeway shared notes about doing more with less.

The feedback led Harry Weller, a partner at the venture capital firm, to back an investment in FactoryWare, an Evanston, Ill.-based maker of software and hardware that improves efficiency on factory floors. FactoryWare also purports to meet CIOs’ demands for improving ROI. Heller says it’s clear that companies are leaning toward smaller investments in applications that help them squeeze more out of their existing IT systems. So why not follow their lead?

It wasn’t that long ago that the dotcom boom busted, and the CIO-venture capitalist relationship took a beating. But that relationship is rebounding: VCs want to hear CIOs’ views to help investment decisions. CIOs, meanwhile, rely on venture investors to help them keep up with innovative technology. So the CIO-VC gatherings are back on track, with an important qualification: Compared with 1999, it’s much more difficult to get a startup’s technology presentation in front of a CIO.

“If nothing else, VCs at least get you a friendly audience,” says Emerick Woods, the CEO of CastBridge, a maker of data collaboration software. In Woods’s case, it was Erik Lassila, managing director at Clearstone Venture Partners, who introduced CastBridge to Yahoo CIO Lars Rabbe. Rabbe got Woods a seat in front of 15 top execs at a recent CIO roundtable.

Talk these days at CIO roundtables is less whizbang and more meat and potatoes: technologies that help a company become more efficient and competitive, and reduce total cost of ownership. And also issues such as getting more out of ERP, tapping business intelligence, controlling spam, enhancing security or standardizing corporate messaging.

But overall investment in startups is lagging, compared with previous years. Venture firms collectively today have an estimated $84 billion in funds to invest. In the third quarter of 2003, venture companies invested $3.9 billion in 429 different companies, a 3 percent dip from the second quarter, according to VentureOne, a capital market research house. Of those 429 deals, IT-related investments garnered more dollars than either health care or products and services, according to data from VentureOne and Ernst & Young. A different study of the same period drilled down among those IT deals and reported that $1 billion in capital investments went to companies in Internet infrastructure startups. That study, by NetsEdge Research Group, noted that security was atop the list, followed by wireless mobility-related investments.

Bob Marshall, managing partner at Selby Venture Partners, says he is more likely today to ask CIOs to assess a new technology than to push them to try it.

“Enterprise software is such a tough market these days,” he says. Selby has invested in just three software companies during the past year and a half, including patch management software maker BigFix. In August, document management giant Pitney Bowes agreed to be a BigFix customer?after meeting with a big contingent of IT staff, of course.