Five Atlanta-based companies are shrinking the gap between startup entrepreneurs and established businesses.

Coca-Cola, Capgemini, Cox Enterprises, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and The Weather Company combined forces to create The Bridge: Atlanta, a startup commercialization program focused on mentoring up-and-coming technology entrepreneurs that can help solve challenges one or more of the sponsoring companies may face.

“Coca-Cola is excited to be partnering with local companies on this initiative, supporting the Atlanta entrepreneurial community through the creation of The Bridge: Atlanta,” said Alan Boehme, chief technology officer, The Coca-Cola Company and the program's executive lead. “This program, based on our experience in running The Bridge by Coca-Cola program in Tel Aviv, aims to help Atlanta entrepreneurs build businesses through tactical training and local partnerships.”

Ten startups were chosen for the six-month program, which focuses on early-stage software technology solutions in one of five business areas – consumer engagement, consumer retail, supply chain, marketing innovation or health and wellness.

During the program, startups receive mentoring and connections to people and resources within the five sponsors’ businesses. These connections enable the startups to test their technology in markets where they likely would not have access otherwise. The sponsor companies don’t take any equity or IP ownership, but rather look for opportunities to test the solutions of the startups through pilot tests. 

“The Bridge collapsed the cycle for the right innovators to meet the right people – it collapses our route to success,” said Nate Halsey, cofounder of Mogean – short for Mobile Geospatial Analytics – a software application that helps companies aggregate information about customers to drive more effective marketing, loyalty, service and delivery.

Halsey and his cofounder, Reid Maulsby, both had past corporate experience before taking their chances as entrepreneurs. From figuring out financing to learning the nuances of human resources and legal, they quickly discovered the life of a startup is drastically different from working at an established global company.

“We dove headfirst into mobile five years ago,” Halsey explained. “One of the hardest things about walking away from a big company environment is the resources that you have – walking away from that is a lot of sacrifice.”

But being comfortable can also be a detriment to large companies, which is why The Bridge: Atlanta partners strive to keep an entrepreneurial mindset.

The Bridge Atlanta

Timm Peddie of IHG

Amy Sparks

“Cox Enterprises was founded by a great entrepreneur, my great-grandfather, Governor James M. Cox,” said Alex Taylor, executive vice president, Cox Enterprises. “I want to make sure our company never loses its innovative roots and that our leaders always stay close to new ideas and next generation thinkers. The Bridge program is a great way for Cox to support and stay connected to Atlanta's startup community, and we are pleased to be involved.”

The Weather Company echoed the need to stay agile.  

"Change is relentless with today's pace of business and technology. Being stagnant is not an option for success, and The Weather Company strives toward continued innovation and disruption," said Bryson Koehler, chief information officer and chief technology officer at The Weather Company, an IBM Business. "We look forward to our involvement with The Bridge: Atlanta to work with new companies and new technologies, especially now that we're part of IBM and solving even bigger problems for the entire globe."

Matching the sponsors’ expertise and methodology with the startups’ excitement and agility is where future opportunities for all of them surface.

“A startup’s journey begins with a spark, but the real magic lies in managing the disruption factor – the entrepreneurs’ ability to commercialize the innovation so it’s compelling, engaging and demonstrates real economic value,” said Adam Agnew, consumer products vice president for Capgemini. “With The Bridge: Atlanta, Coca-Cola is extending its rich culture of innovation to create a nurturing environment for these Atlanta start-ups. As a program sponsor and mentor, we look forward to introducing new ways for these entrepreneurs to grow and connect with the vast innovation ecosystem that extends to Silicon Valley and beyond. Capgemini will bring its experience helping dynamic brands create and apply innovations that deliver game-changing value that’s sometimes disruptive, but always in demand.”  

That’s why Coca-Cola built The Bridge in the first place – to seek innovation outside its own four walls and foster the same risk-taking, fast-moving spirit entrepreneurs embody. The company founded “The Bridge by Coca-Cola” as a wholly-owned program in 2013. Tel Aviv was chosen for its enriching innovation culture, with one of the highest concentrations of startups per capita in the world.

After two successful years running the program in Tel Aviv, Coca-Cola aspired to expand the concept to other markets. At the same time, the company decided to collaborate with local companies to apply the same methodology through a partner-based model. 

Coca-Cola didn’t have to look much further than the backyard of its world headquarters. Atlanta had both established companies eager to support and aspiring companies eager to learn from them.

“At InterContinental Hotels Group, we’re excited to join forces with The Coca-Cola Company and other top Atlanta companies in the Bridge Atlanta program,” said Bill Keen, vice president of Mobile Solutions & Digital Guest Experience at IHG. “We are consistently impressed with the entrepreneurial talent here in Atlanta, home to our Americas headquarters. The Bridge: Atlanta program gives us an opportunity to work directly with entrepreneurs seeking to address important business challenges, while helping encourage and foster emerging business incubation.”

The Bridge: Atlanta connects more than startups to companies. It connects communities. 

“We are pleased to have been asked to play a role in this groundbreaking new program,” said Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “MAC serves to help Atlanta companies succeed, from startups to Fortune 500s. Our deep relationships in the business community have helped connect enterprise-level companies with the best and the brightest startups in the metro Atlanta region via The Bridge Atlanta. The fact that five major Atlanta corporations jumped in to sponsor and serve as business mentors to these ten innovative startups is testament to the dynamic business ecosystem we work hard to cultivate.”

Upon completion of The Bridge: Atlanta, startups will demonstrate their technology at a showcase in hopes of securing customers. Business deal or not, startups are already benefiting from the experience and foresee a ripple effect for Atlanta.   

“The Bridge helps us break down these barriers and lets us have real dialogues with real executives,” said Eric Bleke, cofounder of ENGAGEcx, a customer engagement platform that allows companies to see how and where customers interact with their brands. “It’s not just good for companies inside, but it’s good for the overall startup community in Atlanta. There’s benefits to the investment community, to other startups, and puts Atlanta in positive light.”