Lessons from an entrepreneurial community in Atlanta, Georgia.

Carie Davis is partner at Your IdeasAreTerrible. Previously, she helped Coca-Cola establish an entrepreneurial ecosystem called BridgeCommunity in Atlanta, Georgia. She spoke on what she and her team learned setting up and managing the program. This session was recorded at the 2017 Inside/Outside Innovation Summit.

The problem

A few years ago at Coca-Cola, the IT Innovation Group was formed to help IT better serve the business. They hired a Chief Information Architect in Silicon Valley to introduce “we can do this” solutions to the business and avoid “we can’t do that” roadblocks.

The Chief Architect and his new Group believed startups could help Coca-Cola identify new opportunities for IT support. They started by speaking to founders at the Start-Up Nation community in Tel-Aviv to find out how they could work together.

The startups didn’t ask for another accelerator. They had enough in Tel Aviv. Coca-Cola didn’t care for the ROI on another accelerator, anyway.

Matchmaking with the right Coca-Cola departments would be nice, but it wasn’t enough.

The startups wanted “access to the company” — to speak with leaders and have their tech adopted across the enterprise. Coca-Cola was happy to oblige.

Listen: 11 Podcasts on Startup/Corporate Collaboration

The Solution

The team at Coca-Cola designed BridgeCommunity and launched it in Tel-Aviv.

About BridgeCommunity: BC is a community where startups meet and collaborate with corporations. Everybody learns. Startups learn about storytelling, sales, negotiating, and designing a pilot. Corporations learn to identify unmet needs in their organization and communicate with early-stage companies. No money is given to startups and no equity is taken. BC recruits the startups based on the identified unmet needs and the corporations help decide which are accepted. This year’s cohort has 22 startups.

A few years after launching in Tel-Aviv, Coca-Cola commissioned Carie and her team with setting it up for Atlanta’s communities.

“We spent the last couple of years sitting on the meetings on both sides, understanding where the challenges are happening and then creating what we feel is a better path to making deals happen.”

10 lessons from the BridgeCommunity Atlanta

  1. Practice pre-socialization: Each corporation has Liaisons who know all parts of the business. Get them to go and find the real challenges each department is facing. Start with, “What would you do if you could add more people to your team?” Use their inputs to recruit the right startups. BMW shared their process for recruiting applicants to their Startup Garage in Episode 22 of the I/O Innovation Podcast.
  2. Reduce the friction: Write things down and give each side as many tools as possible to communicate and understand each other.
  3. Less pitching, more learning: Startups are trained to pitch in meetings with corporates. That’s unproductive. Startups should ask a lot of questions. Meetings aren’t about pitching, they’re about learning.
  4. Selective — no early startups: Startups at least need a pilot if they want to join the program. But also, if startups are too late they can’t offer first-mover advantage. The stage of the company has to be just right if they want to be accepted — validated a business model and have a couple customers is ideal. Microsoft shared their criteria for an ideal accelerator applicant in Episode 19 of the I/O Innovation Podcast. Samsung’s VC Christina Bechold did the same in Episode 23.
  5. Senior level support: People need to feel that they have permission to work with startups. Hearing the CEO say, “We really need you to do that — it’s part of our strategy” is reassuring. Amee Mungo from Capital One shared her perspective on C-Suite support on Episode 10 of the I/O Innovation Podcast.
  6. Work from the bottom up: Dynamics between corporate and startup teams can be weird. Startups should be trained in storytelling, sales & negotiation, and designing a pilot before the first meeting.
  7. No nonsense: Give corporations more concrete advice to speed things up — don’t pretend you’re going to do something you’re not! No free pilots, for example. Corporations are coached to not waste startups time, to get to “no” faster.
  8. Catalysts, not blockers: Some departments (IT, other) sometimes say “we can’t work with them”. We have a 2-page evaluation agreement (not an implementation) to help people who are sometimes “blockers” realize that this is only a research project. Taking care to use the right language is important if you want the right people to buy in.
  9. Art of the pilot: On a very basic level, designing pilots that are 1–3 months is important. Define very good metrics for the pilot. If you hit them, the pilot continues. If you don’t, you go back to the drawing board. Good pilot design makes for smooth sailing.
  10. Peer-to-peer learning: Corporations joined the Bridge to learn what other corporations there are doing. Being able to connect and learn from others is useful.

Contact carie@yourideasareterrible.com to learn more about The Bridge, Atlanta’s ecosystem, and startup-corporate collaboration.

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