The startups in Coca-Cola’s BridgeCommunity commercialization program, which upped the ante by accepting double the number of companies this year, receive unparalleled access to a major roster of enterprise partners. Now, they’ll also get to build their MVP’s and do customer testing on what might be one of the largest and most engaged audiences in Atlanta — the Philips Arena during Atlanta Hawks games.
Startups in the BridgeCommunity will be able to use the Hawks assets — think live games with 18,500 spectators, a broadcast reach across eight states and 14 million homes, and a fanbase that numbers in the millions — to test their ideas and market their products.
Philips Arena, which will begin undergoing a $200 million renovation this summer, will also soon host workspace for the companies, possibly with a public-facing component. Hawks Chief Creative Officer and EVP of Brand & Innovation Peter Sorckoff has come onto the program as a platform evangelist.
“From the startups perspective, they’re already being introduced to large enterprises through the program. But now, they’ve got this amazing opportunity to run pilots or proof of concepts on the 18 and a half thousand fans at any one of 45 Hawks games,” says Sorckoff. “They’ve got our app, our broadcast reach. From a testing perspective, that’s pretty breathtaking.”
Sorckoff says the building renovation is the ideal timing to launch this kind of collaboration.
“We started thinking about the life cycles of arenas — which have shrunk dramatically. It used to be that a building would last 25 or 30 years. Well, Philips Arena was built only 17 years ago and we’re in the midst of a re-design. All these technologies we’re about to work into the arena, it’s realistic that those may be outdated in 5-7 years,” says Sorckoff.
“Going back to design thinking, we’ve been contemplating going about this a different way: what if we purposefully created a building that could be updated with new technologies as they emerge? This led me to the idea that an incubator program would give us exposure to all those emerging technologies, and how we might be able to integrate those into this building and our physical footprint. This could provide us with a constant flow of these new technologies to update what we are already doing.”
It also compliments the team’s willingness to experiment with different technologies during games, like their video projection technology that allows the court to be turned into a video screen, a lottery game, or any number of things.
“We like to think that we use the arena as a living lab. We openly experiment on our fans with new programs and new promotions— we use it as a petri dish. And we do this with our partners as well; all of our partners are very open to testing new things. When we landed on the idea of co-locating the BridgeCommunity inside of Philips Arena, we thought this could work in exactly the same way,” says Sorckoff.
These new collaborators will add to the access to top organizations the FinTech, Engagement/Retail and IoT startups (up to 10 in each category) will get through BridgeCommunity. In addition to Coca-Cola, Capgemini, Cox Enterprises, IHG, Porsche Financial Services, SunTrust Bank and The Weather Company all serve as members.
It’s very much a cyclical program, says Sorckoff. The startups receive mentorship and resources for the 7-month program, but the members are exposed to innovation and new, fresh ideas. Even the Hawks, a top tech-savvy sports team, can use a little shaking up.
“The community aspect is really vital as well. When we wrote that line “True to Atlanta” — that was about us owning our responsibility to be a cornerstone of the community. This is a way for us to use the game of basketball to grow this ecosystem — supporting individuals in our community.”
“We brought all the pieces together and thought, holy cow, I don’t think this has ever been done before in a sports environment,” says Sorckoff.
Images via Atlanta Hawks, NBA.com.