You say Coca-Cola, I say… startups? The beverage giant appears to hope so, with plans for accelerator programmes in nine cities including Berlin and Istanbul by the end of the year.
The accelerators in Sydney and San Francisco have already launched. According to a presentation given by Coca-Cola VP of Innovation David Butler in Sydney in early August, the Mexico City programme should also already be active. The next cities lined up are Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Bangalore, Berlin, Singapore and Istanbul.
“About a year and a half ago, the company stepped back and said – what are we not doing in terms of innovation?” Butler explained. “You can get lost in that word but essentially what we came down to is that there was a lot going on in this ecosystem, this community, that we weren’t part of…”
The details so far are pretty vague – deliberately so, as it’s still an experiment for the company. Coca-Cola will make two initial hires for each accelerator. Unlike most accelerators, the focus will not be on investing or advising but on “co-designing, collaborating and building with startups, and bringing our ability to scale and our amazing assets together to unlock new ways to create value on a global basis”.
A Coke-branded device to make you healthy?
Butler told the crowd in Sydney that two broad areas of interest will be wellbeing and distribution but the specifics will depend on each city and country. “So it could be as broad as a Coke-branded wearable device that helps you be healthy or it could be, actually Coke will do your deliveries for you?” one audience member asked. Exactly, Butler said. “Those are two ideas we’re working on right now.”
It’s not the first foray for Coca-Cola into the world of startups. In 2001, the company formed a startup incubator in its home town Atlanta, Georgia, in partnership with Georgia Tech University. The project, Fizzion, offered support and up to $250,000 seed capital in exchange for a 12 per cent equity stake but – according to Bloomberg Businessweek – eventually closed, for reasons unknown.
The reception in Sydney seemed reasonably positive though with mention of the traditional distrust between corporates and startups. In Berlin, some in the startup community are already suffering from “accelerator fatigue” with Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom, Axel Springer, pharmaceutical giant Bayer and supermarket chain Rewe among those to announce or already offer some kind of startup programme.
Coca-Cola will need to work harder than some of the above names to gain trust for this new venture and much will depend on those first two hires. The company could not be reached for comment on when the programme in Berlin is likely to open.
Image credit: Flickr user Moyan Brenn
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