7-Eleven Providing Venture Capital to Belly

Customer loyalty platform secures more than $12 million in new funding from several sources

CHICAGO -- 7-Eleven Inc., through its recently created 7-Ventures LLC subsidiary, is among several firms providing a $12.1 million round of venture capital financing to Belly, a major customer loyalty and marketing platform for small and large retailers. The other firms chipping in include New Enterprise Associates, Andreessen Horowitz, DAG Ventures, Lightbank and Cisco.

Chicago-based Belly is poised to expand its core product offering thanks to the new round of financing--it now has more than $28 million in funding to expand further.

"In the past 18 months, we've watched Belly scale quickly and have seen through our test with this network the value Belly can provide to 7-Eleven," said Raja Doddala, vice president of portfolio management for 7 Ventures, LLC. "By becoming an investor, 7-Eleven can learn how successful digital-loyalty networks drive consumer traffic and engagement offline."

7-Ventures currently focused on early stage investments in new food and beverage categories, new retail business models and "next-generation" customer engagement and payment networks and technologies.

Belly enables merchants of all sizes to digitally connect with their customers through a completely customized rewards program tailored to the personality of each business. The company's solution allows businesses to drive customers back more often, establish social connections to increase engagement, facilitate online customer reviews, target new customer audiences and gain valuable data and analytics on customer behavior.

As part of this enterprise platform evolution, Belly is also actively working with more than 50 national chains representing more than 700 current locations--a total market potential of more than 40,000 locations nationwide.

Belly provides the entire technology platform, including the in-store tablet, marketing materials and backend support and analytics combined with a software tool that gives merchants the ability to conduct targeted email campaigns, integrate Belly with their social media and mobile marketing efforts, and obtain detailed analytics.

"While we're impressed with the adoption of Belly's core product of customer loyalty, it's the depth of the consumer interaction Belly fosters that most excites us," said Tom Grossi, partner at NEA. "Belly's in-store tablets are becoming a gateway for its merchants to initiate lasting connections with their customers, gaining valuable feedback while enhancing those relationships in between visits."

Logan LaHive, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Belly, said, "This new round of capital will allow Belly to continue to expand our team, meet existing customer and market demand and scale for future growth. We view this round as validation for what we've built but remain fully aware of all that we still need to accomplish."

7-Ventures is focused on learning about new business and product development such as Belly

"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 Fortune. "And a lot of that innovation is coming from startups."

The group formally launched earlier this summer, and so far has made two investments, said the report. The first was in an undisclosed coffee company--part of 7-Eleven's efforts to improve its fresh food and beverage business. Belly is the second.

"Belly offers digital loyalty networks, and we want to learn how networks work as opposed to retailer-specific loyalty plans," added 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. It also does not seem to have major expectations on returns. "Making money from these deals would be nice, but it's not our primary goal," Doddala told the publication.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. operates, franchises or licenses more than 10,100 7-Eleven stores in North America. Globally, 7-Eleven has some 51,000 stores in 16 countries. During 2012, 7-Eleven stores generated total worldwide sales close to $84.8 billion.