7-Eleven

7-Eleven begins investing in startups

August 28, 2013: 7:30 AM ET

No, it isn't called Big Gulp Ventures.

7-Eleven

FORTUNE -- Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is dipping its toe into the venture capital business, with plans to invest small amounts of money into startups within the retail and food spaces.

It's called 7-Ventures, and is led by longtime 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 explains. "And a lot of that innovation is coming from startups."

The group formally launched earlier this summer, and so far has made two investments.

The first was in an undisclosed coffee company, as part of 7-Eleven's efforts to improve its fresh food and beverage business.

The second is in Belly, a Chicago-based customer loyalty and marketing platform that today is announcing $12.1 million in new VC funding. In addition to 7-Ventures, investors in the Belly round include New Enterprise Associates, Andreessen Horowitz, DAG Ventures, Lightbank and Cisco Systems (CSCO).

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

7-Ventures does not yet have formal parameters around how much money it can invest per year, or on a target number of deals. There also do not seem to be major return expectations. Or as Doddala puts it: "Making money from these deals would be nice, but it's not our primary goal."

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