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Backing the Future: Where GE Ventures Sees the Next Big Ideas

Like many inventors, Thomas Edison started out as a teenage tinkerer with empty pockets. But his work on improving the telegraph led him to a better stock market ticker and a valuable patent, which he sold for $10,000 to Western Union. He used the money to build a lab in Menlo Park, N.J., and amp up his work with electricity, which attracted venture investments from J.P. Morgan and William Henry Vanderbilt and, eventually, led to GE.

Today, it is GE who is doing the investing. Two years ago the company rolled up its venture capital, new business, and licensing teams and launched GE Ventures. One goal of the business unit includes investing in new companies with ideas that carry a big payoff potential for both their and GE’s customers. Currently GE Ventures has 61 startups in its portfolio covering software, energy, healthcare and advanced manufacturing. Besides, money, they get also access to GE’s expertise, global scale and network of customer and partners to bring ideas to market faster.

Here’s a short list of companies that received investment from GE Ventures:

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Top image: A GIF animation of Thomas Edison working in his lab. Image credit: Kevin Weir, flux machine. Above: A super-revolution microscopic image of a dividing cell. This image was used for cancer research.

RainDance Technologies is developing new “liquid biopsy” systems using tiny droplets separated by oil to analyze DNA. The new tools could allow doctors to test tumors and cancer cells with a simple needle prick. Alex de Winter, who invests in clinical diagnostics startups at GE Ventures, says that each droplet becomes a miniature bioreactor that can amplify target DNA inside a RainDance analyzer. De Winter says that instead of sequencing the whole genome, the droplets allow researchers to focus only on the relevant pre-identified genes, or as little as 1 percent of the sample. “You don’t waste time and you don’t waste sequencing power,” de Winter says.

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Airware is developing a suite of hardware, software and cloud services foe drones called the Aerial Information Platform. Drones equipped with the technology have already took part in an anti-poaching exercise in a northern white rhino wildlife preserve in Kenya. “We want to make it easy for customers to build drones for any commercial application and operate them in a safe and reliable manner,” says Airware founder and CEO Jonathan Downey says. “This is something the industry as well as regulators have been asking for.”

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Stem is using batteries, data analytics and machine learning to . make the power grid more intelligent. The company wants to reduce electricity costs by up to 20 percent without changing the way we get power.

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Ayasdi is using “deep analytics” to help customers automatically discover hidden meanings in their data. The company says that its goal is to make analyzing complex data “as simple as online shopping or searching the web.”

You can read about companies that partnered with GE Ventures here.

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