Cisco acquired nearly 50 start-ups in decade, most in M&A market

Networking giant tops the Dow Jones list for the most purchases over the last 10 years

Cisco acquired more start-ups than any other corporation over the past decade, in a list dominated by IT vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, EMC and Oracle.

Cisco purchased 48 venture capital-backed companies between 2000 and 2009, followed by IBM with 35, Microsoft with 30, EMC with 25 and Oracle with 23.

The data was compiled by Dow Jones VentureSource and published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.  

The numbers, while impressive, don't fully reflect how acquisitive these vendors were in the past decade because they only include venture-backed companies, mainly start-ups. Cisco completed several billion-dollar deals last decade, including the $US3.2 billion acquisition of WebEx and a $6.9 billion purchase of Scientific-Atlanta, which weren't included in the Dow Jones calculation.

Cisco's biggest purchase of a venture-backed company in the 2000s, according to Dow Jones, was an $830 million deal for IronPort Systems in 2007, an e-mail security vendor.

Microsoft's top acquisition of a venture-backed company was $800 million for Tellme Networks in 2007, an Internet phone service vendor. EMC's biggest was the $625 million purchase of virtualization vendor VMware in 2004, while IBM's was a $225 million deal for database security vendor Guardium in 2009. Statistics for Oracle were incomplete.

The top 10 acquirers of VC-backed companies also included Broadcom, Symantec and HP, with 18 acquisitions each, Google with 17 and Sun with 16. Notable deals included Google's $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube, Sun's $1 billion purchase of MySQL and HP's $360 million deal for LeftHand Networks.

Sun, of course, has agreed to be acquired by Oracle for more than $7 billion, but the deal hasn't been completed yet because of regulatory hurdles in Europe. In addition to its activity with Sun, Oracle acquired five venture capital-backed start-ups in 2009, more than any other company, while EMC came in second place with four such acquisitions in '09.

2009 was a slow year for tech acquisitions, but experts believe buying activity will pick up in 2010.

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Jon Brodkin

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