Called “ecosystem investing” by some innovation executives, it refers to the increasingly complex network of suppliers and innovators supporting large companies.The idea is to gain access to the technology through strategic partnerships and alliances:
In this model, well-established U.S. companies are creating strategic partnerships with startups and small companies whose technologies and skills can help the large companies expand their own capabilities.
The goal of the incumbents is to systematically target emerging technologies and “harvest” ideas without having to take on the risk of acquiring the smaller companies. Sometimes the large company takes an equity stake, and its top executives may sit on the small company’s board or mentor its top management. Alternatively, it may seek to license the small company’s technology or buy its products and distribute them to global markets.Here are a couple of results. First from J&J:
Ortho-McNeil Inc., a J&J division, invested the modest sum of US$40 million in Metabolex Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical company based in Hayward, Calif., so the two companies could collaborate on the development of compounds used to treat type 2 diabetes. ...Second from Intel:
In June 2010, Ortho-McNeil received an exclusive worldwide license to commercialize several Metabolex drugs, including the diabetes compound, for about $330 million. That’s far less than the $1 billion a pharmaceutical company typically spends to develop drugs internally, and far more than Metabolex could have expected to bring in on its own.
Intel was able to dramatically increase the clout of its ecosystem investment strategy recently when it teamed up with 24 other venture capital (VC) firms as part of the company’s “Invest in America” alliance, Intel’s commitment to promote U.S. competitiveness by supporting technology development and creating jobs for college graduates. Intel put up a mere $200 million of its own money, but the VC firms pledged to match that investment, for a total of $3.5 billion over several years.