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Dell, VC firms expand help for start-ups

The PC maker says it will work with two venture capital firms to offer start-ups easier access to computers, Web hosting and other services.

Dell Computer today said it would work with two venture capital firms to offer start-ups easier access to computers, Web hosting and other services.

Initially, Dell will work with Austin Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as its own Dell Ventures.

While the program is not unique--IBM, Sun Microsystems and others offer similar initiatives--it is one of the most extensive offerings for Intel- and Windows-based systems. Like IBM's QuickLaunch and Dell Ventures, many similar programs are generally funded through computer makers. Dell's initiative, VC Direct, is also unique for working directly with outside venture capital firms.

"This is a follow-on initiative to the one between CIT, Intel and Dell announced a few weeks ago," said Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray.

That announcement focused on venture leasing, consulting and capital funding for Internet infrastructure companies. VC Direct is somewhat broader in scope.

Portfolio companies of the two venture capital firms get better hardware pricing, top-level sales and technical support, discounted services, hardware consulting, and Web hosting.

"It's really a suite of services designed to help start-ups with their IT infrastructure needs," said Jim Porter, senior manager of Dell's Internet partner division.

While the program focuses more on start-ups, it is available to more established up-and-coming companies or brick-and-mortar operations planning a spinoff.

One of the biggest hurdles facing any start-up is buying new equipment, which Dell handles through special leasing arrangements, Porter said.

"They do get special financing," he explained. "We have two kinds of leasing for early stage companies. One is just called Dell Venture leasing, and that's available to any company that qualifies. However, there is a new component, Dell Leasing Early Stage, and it is only available to selected portfolio companies of the VC Direct members."

CIT, a major venture-leasing firm, underwrites this part of the program for Dell. To date, Dell Venture Capital has made capital investments of about $1 billion in 100 companies.

"It's a good strategy to look closely with partnering with venture capital companies, because they have the direct relationship with start-ups," Gray said. "I think it would be in Dell's best interest to continue to develop relationships with VC companies."

Kleiner Perkins garnered attention recently when former Oracle president Ray Lane joined the VC firm, following his resignation from the database giant.