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Wal-Mart as VC?
By Terrell Johnson

(FORTUNE Small Business) – When Wal-Mart and small companies meet, it's either a big hand up - your product hits the shelves, and it's a jackpot! -- or a big slap down -- you're shopping the aisles for an OUT OF BUSINESS sign. Hopes for happier outcomes rose when Wal-Mart recently launched a $25 million venture capital fund to invest in woman- and minority-owned small firms.

Aldus Equity Partners, which manages the fund, says money will be given in $2.5 million to $5 million lumps to as many as nine small companies over the next ten years. (E-mail coinvestmentfund@aldusequity.com for info.) Aldus founder Marcellus Taylor notes applicants shouldn't expect greater access to Wal-Mart shelves, but adds, "The goal is to invest in companies that have the promise of becoming major suppliers to a broad set of retail corporations."

Critics say Wal-Mart is trying to clean up its image after some women and minority employees filed lawsuits charging discrimination. But National Minority Supplier Diversity Council president Harriet Michel is delighted, no matter what Wal-Mart's motives are. "If we had only purists at the table," she says, "the table would be very small." Top of page