``t would be simple to declare that Alibaba, which became a tech powerhouse by amassing a sprawling collection of businesses in its home country, is trying to take its omnivorous approach to the United States, and it is willing to spend big to make that happen. But the recent investments aren't just about size. Alibaba is also rubbing elbows in the sometimes insular world of Silicon Valley-funded startups, where a handful of plugged-in financiers can help the company spot the next breakout smartphone app or e-commerce trend before it hits the mainstream. ''

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