By Tanya Agrawal
(Reuters) - Shares of online data storage provider Box Inc <BOX.N> rose as much as 77 percent in their market debut as investors bet on the company's ability to turn profitable in a highly competitive market, boding well for another big year for IPOs.
Box's shares, which priced at $14, hit a high of $24.72 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, valuing the company at nearly $3 billion.
The stock's enthusiastic reception also underscored healthy investor appetite for technology stocks after the blockbuster debut of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd <BABA.N> in September.
U.S. IPOs, which have been on a tear since 2013, raised more than $93 billion last year, the most since 2000.
Box was founded in 2005 by University of Southern California dropout Aaron Levie, the chief executive, and his friend Dylan Smith, the chief financial officer.
The Los Altos, California-based company has about 32 million users, compared with about 300 million for Dropbox, its popular privately held rival. (http://bit.ly/1tsaMLK)
Dropbox, which has said it plans to go public eventually, has been valued at about $10 billion.
Apart from Dropbox, Box faces increasing competition from Microsoft Corp's <MSFT.O> OneDrive, which is offered free when users sign up for its Office apps, Apple Inc's <AAPL.O> iCloud, and Google Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google Drive.
Box offers 10 gigabytes of free online storage and charges fees for additional space.
To help it compete, Box offers specialized storage options such as digital versions of X-rays for drugmakers.
"The secret sauce of Box is that we (handle) all security and requirements of managing data, but we deliver that to end-users in a very, very usable way which most of the traditional players aren't able to do," Box CEO Aaron Levie told Reuters.
The market for file storage and sharing is likely to grow by about 23 percent to $2.3 billion over the next five years, according to research firm IDC.
Box's revenue rose 80 percent to $153.8 million in the nine months ended Oct. 31, but it posted a net loss of $121.5 million, little changed from a year earlier.
The company raised $175 million through the IPO.
Venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson has a 19.2 percent stake in the company. Levie owns 3.4 percent and Smith 1.5 percent.
Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan were the lead underwriters for the offering.
(Additional reporting by Amrutha Gayathri)