NEW YORK (
) -- As tech giants like
look for new ways to grow, many are turning to small start-ups for investment opportunities.
Known as corporate venture capital, this form of investing has seen an uptick in the past year as lumbering tech companies often find it easier to partner with nimble start-ups rather than build new products themselves.
These young companies, in turn, can gain access to top notch executives, engineers and technology through their corporate investors.
Corporate investment capital accounted for 14.9% of all venture deals in 2011, up from 13.6% in the year prior, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
Here are five profiles of cutting-edge startups backed by tech's biggest names.
Corporate Partner: IBM (mentorship, not investment)
What It Does: Price monitoring software for retailers
Profitero, an Ireland-based start-up which makes pricing analysis software for retailers, won
entrepreneur of the year award earlier this month.
The 13-person company helps retailers to properly price their merchandise by giving them access to data like how much their competitors are charging and which new products have their rivals started to sell. They can also monitor their competitors' shipping costs and stock availability through a Web-based dashboard.
Profitero collects data on 30 million products from over 2,800 retailers, with plans to expand to 100 million products by the middle of this year. It has also secured several major European clients like U.K.-based merchandising giant
and French supermarket chain
IBM chose to partner with Profitero because of its disruptive power within the retail industry.
"There's tremendous opportunity for retail to leverage data," said Claudia Fan Munce, managing director of IBM's venture capital group. "It's one of the industries that has transformed based on the data analytics, the velocity of the data and responsiveness that people are looking for products."
IBM's venture capital group does not manage a portfolio of start-ups, it rather focuses on identifying businesses of interest who receive access to Big Blue's resources and mentorship opportunities.
Corporate Partner: Comcast Ventures
What It Does: Craft supplies for kids
Launched last October, Kiwi Crate just snagged $5 million from investors including
venture arm in its first round of funding.
The company is a subscription-based service that delivers crates of craft supplies to kids ages three to six each month for $19.95. Every crate is themed (i.e. safari, space, or colors) and includes materials and a book of instructions.
Since launching, Kiwi Crate has been tripling its subscriber base each month, according to Comcast. Its founders include former executives from
Corporate Partner: Intel
What It Does: Network security and monitoring
Utah-based Solera Networks, which helps companies to detect cyber-attacks or to respond once a breach has occurred, announced in January it had raised $20 million in a funding round led by
If a Web retailer has been hit by hacker, for example, Solera will investigate how the attacker infiltrated its network to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Intel's investment in Solera comes as the chipmaker looks to beef up its security offerings. The company first jumped into the security space in 2010 through its
$7.7 billion acquisition of security software company McAfee
"There are areas that make enterprises vulnerable to current attacks and when that happens it will slow down purchasing of Intel architecture until you have a solution that could help counteract some of the invasive measures," said Sean Cunningham, an investment director at Intel Capital who was responsible for the firm's investment in Solera. "It's important for us to augment our internal security efforts with ecosystem players that bring innovative solutions."
Corporate Partner: Motorola Solutions
What It Does: Location-based shopping
Retailigence raised $2.6 million in January from
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company works with retailers to publish their local inventory data on mobile applications they've partnered with. This allows customers to look up on their phones which items their local grocery or clothing stores are carrying.
Retailigence is trying to help brick-and-mortar retailers -- who spend an estimated $60 billion annually to drive foot traffic into their stores -- but who are ignored by consumers looking up products on their mobile device.
"We very much recognize that when a consumer goes into a retail environment right now they have their smartphone with them," said Reese Schroeder, managing director of Motorola Solutions Venture Capital, who was responsible for the investment in Retailigence. "We're definitely interested in solutions and things that can help the retailer get customers into the store and to the item that the customer wants to buy in that store."
Launched in 2010, Retailigence has listings for more than 10 million products which are sold across 100,000 retail locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Corporate Partner: Google
What It Does: Mobile app development
Mobile development lab
, started by
founder Kevin Rose, raised $1.5 million late last year from Google Ventures.
So far the company has released one iPhone app: Oink, which lets you rate items at different places, such as spaghetti and meatballs at your favorite Italian restaurant or the best beer at your local pub.
If the item is something you like, you can share it with friends through
. The app leverages Google's Maps functionality and Rose has said he wants to incorporate more of the company's technology in later versions of Oink.
Written by Olivia Oran in New York
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