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Startup Weekend at Coke: Building Entrepreneurship From the Inside Out

By:  Carie Davis Jul 3, 2013
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Startup Weekend at The Coca-Cola Company

A recent Startup Weekend event at Coke's Atlanta headquarters.

Ever wonder what it's like to be an entrepreneur?

At Coca-Cola, we believe that entrepreneurs walk among us, and that large organizations must embrace startup skills to continue to be successful in a changing world. That's why we’re on a mission to unleash this capability to continue to drive growth and empowerment.

We asked ourselves: What if we could create the opportunity for people to experientially learn what it's like to work like an entrepreneur? We decided to conduct an experiment that has proven to be successful in communities... and what are corporations if not communities with a few more walls around them? As part of our global partnership with Up Global, we hosted an internal Startup Weekend.

What's a Startup Weekend? It's a 54-hour event to experience what it's like to create and launch a startup idea. The mission of Startup Weekend is to inspire and educate entrepreneurs to act, meet new collaborators and build viable business solutions.

For three days in June, 100 Coca-Cola associates in Atlanta gathered to pitch ideas, form teams based on a shared passion and mindset, and launch an idea. Teams focused on creating a viable business model, building prototypes to validate ideas with real customers, and refining a pitch for a panel of judges.



The results are impressive: 46 ideas were pitched, and 14 teams were formed to develop and launch ideas. More importantly, the experience of creating something new in just three days helped participants realize how much is possible in such a short amount of time with limited resources. Also powerful was the opportunity for people to work on something outside the scope of their day job with like-minded Coca-Cola colleagues, many of whom they'd never met. Since anyone from any group was welcome to attend, the action-based, cross-functional networking was an unexpected outcome that has lead to new projects, opportunities and friendships. In addition to giving participants a tremendous sense of accomplishment and empowerment, other benefits included the importance of quick customer validation of ideas through real conversations outside the building, the ability to work faster, and the exposure to so many talented people at Coke who share a goal to make a difference and to grow, personally and professionally.

What's Next?

Many of the teams are continuing to work on their ideas. But, more importantly, they have developed skills and new relationships they will take back to their day jobs. We also feel there is a new connection between Coca-Cola intrapreneurs and community entrepreneurs that can be harnessed. The potential for new ideas increases exponentially with more serendipitous conversations, both internally and externally. We want to work together to build strong startup and entrepreneurial ecosystems that will continue to strengthen communities in which we operate around the world.

Getting Start-ed

Looking for a way to engage with our Up Global Partnership? Attend a Startup Weekend in your city, or volunteer to provide beverages at a local Startup Weekend to engage with your own entrepreneurial community. Are you a Coca-Cola employee interested in becoming a regional contact to help connect local organizers with colleagues? If so, email me (I'm in the KO directory).

Our next focus will be support of 10 Startup Weekend Maker Editions around the world. Why a focus on Makers? Because we see tremendous opportunity in the merging of the physical and the digital worlds. Democratization of tools in both of these realms will make it easier than ever for people to dream and create solutions to some of the world's biggest challenges, and we want to help inspire and educate potential entrepreneurs to give it a try. We're excited to be a part of the next era of startups thinking beyond the app!

Carie Davis is global innovation director at Coca-Cola. Follow her on Twitter at @cariedavis2