Multinationals Venture into Startup Investing

Big companies from Adidas to BMW to General Mills are investing in startups that range from smartphone navigational apps to emerging food brands

Fund: Robert Bosch Venture Capital
Established: 2007, Stuttgart
The conglomerate backs startups in industries ranging from miniature projection systems to health care and new materials. Last March it led an investment in Pittsburgh mobile-robotics developer Aethon.
Citi Ventures
Moved to Palo Alto, Calif., 2010
Its sweet spot is location-based mobile technology, data and analytics tools, and alternative lenders. Citi invested in shopping app maker Shopkick last year and is testing the technology in bank branches in the Palo Alto area.
General Mills
General Mills Ventures
2010, Minneapolis
Focused on investing in ingredient technology, emerging food brands, and digital media. The group’s manager, Meredith Schwarz, says the company started soliciting proposals for technologies as prosaic as pouch packaging and pumps on its website last year.
Best Buy
Best Buy Capital
2007, Minneapolis
In June it participated in a $12.3 million funding round for Zeo, a developer of sleep-tracking technology. The electronics retailer is also testing demand for electric vehicle charging stations and home energy management systems by stocking them in select stores.
Hydra Ventures
2011, Amsterdam
Focused on seed investments in apparel brands. Its website touts “financing terms that seek to minimize the adversarial negotiation element.”
BMW IVentures
2011, New York
Rather than limit investments to vehicles, it’s betting on technologies that individuals can use to navigate cities. Its first investment, the MyCityWay smartphone app, is designed for individuals on foot or using public transportation.

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