Consumers tend to associate 7-Eleven mainly with Slurpees, Big Gulps, and hot dogs left under the heat lamp too long. So what is the real world’s Kwik-E-Mart doing by jumping into the sophisticated world of venture capitalism? In recent months, 7-Eleven launched a venture capital arm called 7-Ventures and began investing in companies such as Belly, an innovative smartphone loyalty and payment program. To the average consumer, the idea that a forward-thinking outfit like Google has a venture capital operation makes sense because the company is obviously keen on innovation and technology. The fact that the company best known for Slurpee giveaways is now putting money into startups may sound puzzling. However, Yael V. Hochberg, an expert on entrepreneurship and a professor of finance at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, explained in a recent interview that the launch of 7-Ventures should come as no big surprise. “It’s becoming more common nowadays for companies to do this sort of thing,” she said. Long ago, large companies tended to have in-house research and development departments working on the products and services that could hopefully help the business down the road. But over the years, Hochberg explained, a preference developed for what’s known as “outsourced R&D,” in which startups and smaller businesses take on the risks of creating new tools and technologies, and larger companies get involved later via mergers and acquisitions or investments. (MORE: Twitter Plans to Become a Shopping Destination) In the ’80s and ’90s, it was typical for big companies to make venture capital investments with an eye for pure profit. “They were simply looking for financial returns,” said Hochberg. Lately, though, she said that VC arms are more likely to make investments that are “somewhat strategic in nature,” with the business being funded and encouraged to grow being one that is likely to somehow help the larger company. Pharmaceutical, health care, and tech companies are all regulars in the VC world. Companies that have some of the world’s best-known brands are jumping in as well. General Motors’ GM Ventures,
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