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7-Eleven: The Next Venture Capitalist?

DALLAS -- One of the most well-known retailers in the world is lending an investing hand to startups looking to break into the market.

According to Fortune magazine, 7-Eleven Inc. has formed 7-Ventures to invest small amounts of money into startups in the retail and food space. The initiative is being led by 7-Eleven business development executive Raja Doddala.

"Part of business development is to learn about new products, new retail models and new technologies that help improve retail traffic and engagement," Doddala told the news outlet. "And a lot of that innovation is coming from startups."

Since formally launching earlier this summer, 7-Ventures has made two investments. The first is in an undisclosed coffee company as part of 7-Eleven's efforts to improve its fresh food and beverage business, the report stated.

The second is in Belly, a Chicago-based customer loyalty and marketing platform that just announced $12.1 million in new venture capital funding. In addition to 7-Ventures, Belly investors include New Enterprise Associates, Andreessen Horowitz, DAG Ventures, Lightbank and Cisco Systems.

"Belly offers digital loyalty networks, and we want to learn how networks work as opposed to retailer-specific loyalty plans," Doddala explained.

According to the Fortune report, there are no parameters as to how much money 7-Ventures can invest each year or on how many projects. The initiative is also not expected to bring major returns. "Making money from these deals would be nice, but it's not our primary goal," he said.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. operates, franchises or licenses more than 10,110 7-Eleven convenience stores in North America.

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