Aug 10, 2016

Coke likes to play ‘fast pitch’ with tech start-ups

by | News

Can be shortcut to finding new technologies

And when the angel goes by the name Coca Cola, you know you’re playing in the big leagues.

But what’s in it for Coke and other angels playing in the fast-pitch league?

Executives sitting down to talk were:

  • Coca Cola Global Commercialization Manager Tom North,
  • Industry & Investor Catalyst Betsy Plattenburg of Advanced Technology Development Center, Georgia Tech’s startup technology incubator
  • Sarah Tourville representing the Greater Alpharetta Technology Network and the 900 technology companies around North Fulton.

Coca-Cola and the Advanced Technology Center have partnered three times now with the Greater Alpharetta Technology Network for fast-pitch sessions to tap into the rich ideas percolating among the 900-plus technology companies in greater Alpharetta.

“We are fortunate enough to have a premier sponsor like Coca Cola to come here in Alpharetta for our fast-pitch programs and to get exposure for some of the new technologies borne out the Alpharetta area,” said GATN’s Tourville.

Coke, ATDC and GATN recently collaborated on their third fast-pitch exercise much to everyone’s satisfaction.

“The quality of the pitches was extremely good,” said Tourville.

The third fast pitch conducted last month at Gwinnett Tech’s Alpharetta campus had six companies who got 5 minutes to pitch what their technology can do and what its innovative applications can do for an existing market or in an entirely new field.

Coca Cola’s North said his company is interested in participating in these technology pitches for one very good reason.

“It’s all about innovation. Even though we have 2 billion servings a day, if we don’t innovate we’re going to get complacent and we’re going to lose our place as the industry leader. It’s that plain and simple,” North said.

“So Coca-Cola is always scouting for new technology – whether it’s hardware-based, software-based, it doesn’t matter. It can be a process, a financial model or delivery mechanism. It doesn’t matter. We’re interested.

“If it is semi-relevant and we think it might have legs, then we’re interested.”

In this instance, Coke liked the idea from a Kroger internal account team that had an idea about how they could increase their customer value based around a loyalty program.

ATDC’s Plattenburg is always scouring the state for tech companies with the next great idea and the platform to make it happen.

“We are a statewide organization so we are always on the lookout for interesting technology startups. This was a great event for us because it uncovered some startups that we were not familiar with as well,” Plattenburg said.

She said it is a good partnership with GATN and Coke because it helps all three organizations build on the strengths that they have. ATDC’s role is to bring these new companies to the attention of the greater business community.

“It also helps us discover new things and to bring companies we know to a broader audience,” said Plattenburg.

Launching new companies is what ATDC is all about. Plattenburg says it has about 1,000 startups in its ecosystem, but there are clearly far more than that in the state of Georgia.

“So it is really interesting to do a program like fast pitch with GATN and with Coke where we can focus on consumer engagement because we discovered companies that we were not aware of. We may be able to help and make additional connections for them,” she said.

Tourville said it gives these startups a tremendous boost as well to get in front of companies like Coke and to get their feedback.

“For them to have that conversation, and then to speak to them informally afterwards, it’s a reach they never thought they would achieve,” Tourville said.

She described those after-pitch conversations as “rich and dynamic.” Then the follow-up networking is important as well.

For Plattenburg, the fast-pitch program fits right in her wheelhouse. She runs a match-making program for ATDC called Industry Connect which tries to match up industry startups with large brands like Coke.

“It is hard to explain the value of the opportunity to have those conversations with a brand company like that,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of customer discovery and learning that goes on in conversations like that.

“To gain access to Coke representatives is a phenomenal opportunity. To tell your story and have the full focus be on you for even 5 minutes means a lot because the spotlight is totally on you,” she said.

Plattenburg said both companies will tell you these meetings are valuable for many different reasons.

North said it’s a two-way street. A company like Coca-Cola is getting access also.

“We also don’t have access to startup companies. So we struggle in that capacity,” he said. “So this is a great opportunity to connect with them directly and find out what kind of capabilities they have. Is this something that is applicable to what we do or is it something tweakable?”

With the help of GATN and other member organizations, Atlanta is gaining a reputation for facilitating these kinds of booster meetings between startups and big brand companies, Plattenburg said.

“Atlanta is becoming known as a place with its Fortune 500 companies and with regional headquarters as well as place where startups can come and connect with customers very early in their existence,” she said.

Gwinnett Tech also lends itself as a good venue, situated in the OTP mecca for technology companies. It dovetails with Gwinnett Tech’s new entrepreneurial track.

They all agreed this is a symbiotic relationship for all parties and should continue.

Article originally posted on Herald Newspapers.


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