Coca-Cola’s BridgeCommunity Looks to Expand Its Next All-Star Startup Lineup

After a successful first year spent with 10 diverse startups, Coca-Cola’s BridgeCommunity Commercialization program is kicking off their recruitment push for their second cohort. This year, they’ve upped the ante — they’ll accept up to 30 startups into the program.

From April through October, up to 10 startups each in FinTech, Consumer Engagement, and IoT categories will gain access to education, resources, and mentorship from six major Atlanta companies: Coca-Cola, Cox Enterprises, InterContinental Hotels Group, The Weather Company, Porsche Financial Services and Capgemini. They will also have access to work space at The Garage at Tech Square.

Though the program does not promise funding or investment, in 2016 the ten startups raised a total of $2.9 million in funding. Nine pilots/proof-of-concepts were created and 32 new hires were made. Carie Davis, executive director of The BridgeCommunity, attributes much of this overall success to the connections created between the startups and the corporate world— the “bridge” that provides the program’s namesake.

Davis gave Hype the scoop on why they chose these three categories, how the Bridge is taking advantage of Atlanta’s top-notch tech resources and leaders and the innovative partnerships they’re forming to give these startups an edge.

After much success in last year’s program, you’ve aimed to increase the number of startups in the program. How will you scale the program to help this many more companies?

We’ve increased the number of corporations participating in the program (from 5 to 6, with the addition of Porsche Financial Services), and now have our sights set on recruiting a larger number of startups as well. The final number of startups depends on the quality of applicants and ultimately the corporations choose which startups are a good fit. We expect the number to double this year, perhaps more.

By adding more corporate partners there will be more pilot opportunities, and because of this we’re adding depth to the corporate structure as well. This includes refining the corporate liaison role to provide even more hands-on connections for the startups and also engaging earlier with legal, procurement and IT teams (among others) to garner insights for the best way to engage startups within their large organizations.

We’ve also created 3 verticals (FinTech, Engagement/Retail and IOT) this year to improve focus, leading to more obvious connections and potential pilots. And we’d like to stress that these categories are still broad. Within each vertical, there are a number of areas of interest; for example, within engagement/retail, we have consumer retail, supply chain, marketing innovation and health & wellness.

Why are you targeting these three industries?

The idea for these verticals came from conversations with our corporate members and with local leaders about how our program could best complement and grow Atlanta’s startup community’s current strengths.

For example, we knew the FinTech Taskforce had the same goal we had — highlight the depth of the FinTech ecosystem in Atlanta and bring forward more re`sources to support its growth. It was a natural fit to build a FinTech vertical, and we have two corporations who will focus specifically on that vertical as a result — one being Porsche Financial Services, one of our new corporate participants.

How will local Atlanta resources/know-how help companies in these industries specifically?

Last year several people in the community helped the startups in our program. For example, Michael Cohn from Techstars helped with a case study workshop, and Blake Patton of Tech Square Ventures, Philip Lewis of Fulcrum Partners, and Matt Stevens helped with a fireside investor chat. This year we can get more specific within these industries. For example, the FinTech Taskforce is offering help for startups to navigate the FinTech regulatory environment.

This year we are also finding new people inside these corporations who wouldn’t normally engage with the startup community, but now have permission, a reason, and an outlet where they can give back with their depth of expertise.

How else will the local startup/corporate ecosystem be involved in the program?

This year the program is running out of The Garage, a space packed with tech talent from students to serial founders. We also plan to have events and workshops around the city to highlight the best of Atlanta’s startup resources. And like last year, we are relying on local investors and community leaders to refer their portfolio companies into our program. If we can help one of their startups win a large enterprise customer, that’s a win for their program, for us, and the community at large.

Describe the ideal startup you’re looking for.

From our experience last year, the ideal startup has a launched product in the market, a good understanding of who their customer is, and perhaps has a few enterprise customers. If they have those three things, they are in a great position to benefit from the connections, as well as the education we provide. Humility is important, too.

As many B2B startups will know, to win large enterprise customers you must to able to ask the right questions, understand their specific objectives, quickly articulate the value you can bring, and define what a pilot might look like. Participating in the BridgeCommunity is a great chance to learn how to polish both your approach and product.

Where are you looking to recruit companies from?

We’re focused on Atlanta as our primary target, but this year we are also broadening our recruitment efforts to cities within a two-hour flight to Atlanta.

What new partnerships have you formed this year? How will these bring new programs and resources to the companies participating in The Bridge?

We’ve partnered with the FinTech Taskforce who will provide a depth of knowledge into the FinTech vertical of the program. For example, tapping into their networks to create additional training opportunities and social events with guest speakers as a way to get the whole FinTech community out and engaged with the cohort.

As a founder, why apply?

Startup founders will get targeted introductions to a killer lineup of Fortune 500’s eager to become their customers within the time constraints of the program. The BridgeCommunity helps founders not only get in front of the right people faster, but they also receive training and coaching to hone offerings, as well as support in negotiations.

Also, by joining the BridgeCommunity, founders join a network of startups landing enterprise clients, in addition to connecting with their peers in the program. Many startups leave the program with a corporate customer, and this type of traction can be better evidence of progress than funding or PR.

Lastly, this part-time program is designed for busy founders— it only requires a commitment of 2 hours per week from one person on the startup team. It can be easily done in conjunction with another accelerator program; in fact, it serves as a great complement to a startup currently diving into traditional growth programming.