I’ve been to many tech conferences. I’ve seen my share of keynotes. I’ve enjoyed my share of hallway coffee and wine served in clear plastic cups. But some of my most favorite things to do at conferences don’t revolve around the highly-publicized “cornerstone” features like the expansive expo hall or the anticipated keynote session; I love the side shows where you can often find the most interesting nuggets of innovation & information.

This week’s Citrix Synergy conference was no exception. In addition to all the brain-overloading, industry-changing announcements made by Citrix on the main stage (and seriously, there were MANY), there was some ground-breaking innovation happening down the hall in the Citrix Startup Accelerator Sessions. I was fortunate enough to not only be part of the excitement, but I also got a chance to sit down with the head of the Citrix Startup Accelerator program and VP of Citrix Labs, Martin Duursma, to learn more about the evolution of this program and its strategic importance to the company.

The inception for the program, Martin shared, came about 1 ½ years ago when Citrix began some serious efforts to cultivate innovation internally through workshops, groups, and cross-functional brainstorm sessions. And although they were well-received and rewarding to the participants, the rate of change—ushered in by the proliferation of “the cloud”—had escalated so rapidly that it was difficult to keep up. That’s when the idea came to the company—as Martin refers to it—to bring the “outside in and the inside out.”

The company realized that there was deep internal expertise on product development, marketing, and business that could be of value to the burgeoning numbers of startups in the tech arena. And, conversely, the innovation that was happening at the hands of these new innovative entrepreneurs ushered in new creative thinking that brought with it new ideas and more inspired innovation to many areas of the business.

Because of this early-stage focus on innovation, the program team decided to focus on companies in the earliest stages of their startup ventures. The focus was to identify highly innovative companies in need of seed funding and leverage the symbiotic relationship between Citrix and the startup to drive them toward Series A venture capital.

The first startup to receive seed funding from the program was Primadesk back in March of 2011. Since then the Citrix Accelerator has invested in 11 companies, two of which have gone on to “graduate” from the program either by receiving Series A venture capital or through acquisition, like Nukona which was acquired by Symantec a couple of months ago.

Now, in addition to visiting both Moscone and Javitz more times than I care to count, I’ve also seen my share of startup or capital investment programs over the years. In particular, in my former job I worked with Intel® Capital on a variety of investments around social media companies. However what struck me as so unique about the Citrix Startup Accelerator program was the focus is not merely on the financial viability or success of the startup, but on the symbiotic and collaborative nature of their innovation. Citrix seeks companies who have a strategic function to proliferate innovation in the areas of business where Citrix is focused. So it’s less about handing over cash, but more about an open approach to innovation. Citrix is making an investment in an ecosystem, which is why the investment amounts are not terribly large.

So back to Citrix Synergy. At the end of the day five new startups were invited to make their pitches to a panel of 12 disguingished judges from Citrix, other successful Silicon Valley startups, Venturebeat, and numerous venture capital firms. The prize winner was to receive an investment of $100K. Surprisingly there was a tie between two firms: ScriptRock and AppEnsure. And instead of letting one go home empty-handed, Citrix announced it would invest $100K in each of the promising ventures. For more about this story check out the wrap-up article on the contest winners.