Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, is flinging open the doors of its experimental tech incubator to Nike, Target and Coca-Cola as a way to give them direct access to emerging mobile marketing startups. The agency co-founded the Portland Incubation Experiment in 2009 and this year it is upgrading the program's mentoring and acceleration elements, which includes bringing in mentors from tech-savvy brands on the agency's roster.
For the first time Target and Coke are each volunteering at least five mentors to work with the startups and the PIE network of "tech entrepreneurs, geo-location wizards, mobile gaming experts, open source advocates and techno-cultural disruptors," says Renny Gleeson, W+K's global director of interactive strategies. "Nike is part of an ongoing exploration with PIE and will provide a smaller group of mentors from its Sustainability and Business Innovation unit," Gleeson adds. Twitter developer Alex Payne is among the program's business and technology mentors.
The program is currently looking for up to 10 "brand-collaborative" startups in the mobile space to participate in the fall session. The participants need to have an existing prototype, the ability to launch their service in three to nine months, and a business model that can quickly scale. PIE gives each startup working space at the W+K facility, up to $18,000 and access to key investors and developers.
In exchange, PIE receives six percent common stock in the new companies - also a first for the incubator.
Why are W+K and PIE focusing on mobile technologies? Gleeson says that Portland is a hub for mobile development and mobile is "great territory" for brands to "redfine customer experiences." PIE graduates who will be mentoring the new batch of startups include Portland-based Urban Airship, a provider of back-end services for mobile apps, which raised $6.5 million in funding last year.
"We look for folks ready to hit the ground running," says PIE co-founder and Silicon Florist publisher Rick Turoczy. "This incubator is meant to address a basic question: with all the off-the-shelf technology solutions out there, how fast can we launch a successful business?" He says that Portland boasts "an amazing crop of startups," but the program is also "definitely interested in attracting new companies from outside of the area."
Since its inception, PIE has been home to 20 startups. Besides Urban Airship, it has helped BankSimple, a retail bank site that raised $3.1 million in first round funding, and PHP Fog, a cloud computing platform that secured $1.8 million in financing. Also on the roster was COLOURlovers, web tools and user community for color and design, which raised $1 million in funding. Two other startups in the program have been acquired: Bac'n, an online bacon superstore, and Bass Masta, an online resource for musicians.
Key goals of PIE are to create a "social hub for Portland and build platforms/cultural disruptions, not one-offs," according to Gleeson. Startups that apply don't have to be marketing oriented, Turoczy notes. "We're looking for interesting and compelling ideas, strong entrepreneurs, and amazing teams, because the range of brand challenges we plan to tackle don't always fall neatly into "marketing buckets," he says.
The session starts September 1 and runs for three months. Applications are being accepted through July.
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
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