IBM Mines VC Community for Diamonds

By Carolyn April  |  Posted 2009-10-23 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

IBM's Claudia Fan Munce plays matchmaker at IBM, bringing select VC-backed ISVs into the IBM fold and connecting them to other IBM business partners to get their solutions to market.

Claudia Fan Munce joined IBM 24 years ago as a researcher. Today, still at IBM, Fan Munce is in a decidedly different role. She’s a matchmaker of sorts, bringing select VC-backed ISVs into the IBM fold and connecting them to other IBM business partners to get their solutions to market.

"We like to call ourselves the eHarmony.com of IBM," she told Channel Insider on a recent trip to IBM Software Group headquarters in Somers, N.Y.

As managing director of IBM’s Venture Capital Group, Fan Munce is spearheading an initiative inside IBM that leverages her relationships with some of the world’s top venture capital investment firms identifying cutting-edge technology startups. Those startups are asked to join IBM’s Partnerworld program, where they are provided with resources and enablement to deliver their application or other solution on top of IBM’s platform of products, Fan Munce said. Those solutions often then are sold by other IBM partners.

It’s a win-win-win. IBM provides the go to market engine and IT clout that propels these mostly little players into the marketplace with more resources and bigger splash than if they had gone it alone. IBM gets the benefit of having leading-edge applications in hot areas like cloud computing, green technologies and analytics running atop its software infrastructure and hardware. And IBM’s broader business partner ecosystem gets cool stuff to sell.

The VC program has been quietly in operation at IBM since 2000, but more in the shadows than it is today. For many years the program was mainly about picking the brains of the venture community for emerging trends. That’s changed.

"When we started this we were looking at venture community to understand where and why they were investing," she said. "But quickly we realized that beyond just using this information as strategic leverage that a real revenue opportunity exists through our partners."

To further that goal, Fan Munce has teamed with another longtime IBMer Mark Hanny, vice president of ISV Alliances, to help turn VC-identified gems into real dollars for IBM and its partner channel.

"For awhile IBM didn’t know if the VCs were friend or foe so we ignored them, but now realize a mutual interest," Hanny said. "We get in there early and we are finding that a lot of the companies coming to us from VC portfolio firms turn to us for enablement and tech support in our partner program."

IBM has gone on to acquire 25 of the VC-backed companies it started out in partnership with. But gobbling these companies up is not the stated goal, he added. Over the years, and unlike many of its competitors, IBM has gotten more comfortable aligning with other companies versus having to own them before working together.

And while it’s logical to think the VC environment would have thoroughly dried up in the wake of the recession -- yes, investment has been lackluster -- things are beginning to pick up as the government pours stimulus money into areas like healthcare, Hanny said.

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