Mercedes-Benz has joined Coca-Cola and Turner as co-sponsors of The Bridge, a unique nurturing and commercialization program that connects early-stage tech startups with global markets.

The Bridge began in 2014 as a collaboration between Coca-Cola and the entrepreneurial tech community in Tel Aviv, Israel. A total of 30 companies have gone through the program over the last three years, and 12 more were selected recently for The Bridge’s fourth class. Over the next seven months, these startups will commercialize their solutions with guidance from Coke, Turner and Mercedes-Benz.

Sabine Scheunert, vice president of digital and IT sales/marketing at Mercedes-Benz Cars, said the global automobile manufacturer plans to test solutions from select startups in a corporate environment. Mercedes-Benz, whose U.S. operations are based in Atlanta, hopes to share digital best practices with Coca-Cola and Turner, key players in their respective industries.

“This significant strategic step further down the road of digital transformation will help us to anticipate the needs of our customers and to offer them more personalized products and services,” Scheunert added. “With this entrepreneurial spirit, fostering radical innovation and outside-the-box-thinking, we will exploit the possibilities of today’s and tomorrow’s technology.”

Alan Boehme, chief enterprise architect and global head of emerging technologies and innovation at Coca-Cola, added, “Mercedes-Benz was founded in the same year as Coca-Cola and brings to the table an additional point of view from a European-led company with world-leading quality standards. There is a reason their slogan is ‘The best or nothing’. Bringing in partners such as Mercedes-Benz and Turner allows us to learn from other leading brands’ experience in deploying innovative solutions and improve our ability to find the best startups – because our value proposition gets stronger every year.”

The Bridge 2017
Retube, one of 12 startups selected for the fourth class of The Bridge. Over the next seven months, these companies will commercialize their offerings with guidance from Coca-Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz.

Participating startups offer software solutions ready for commercialization and that fit one of five core themes of particular importance to Coca-Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz: consumer engagement, consumer retail, supply chain, marketing innovation, and health and wellness. Through the program, startups with a working product and initial customers receive in-depth marketing and communications training, mentoring and connections at Coca-Cola, Turner – and now Mercedes-Benz – that could lead to pilots or licensing agreements. At the completion of the program, the startups convene at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta to showcase their offerings to potential customers and investors.

Gabby Czertok, general manager, The Bridge, said the program offers startups something markedly different from traditional investment programs. “Venture capitalists want to invest in companies in exchange for equity and financial growth of the startups,” he said. “What we want is to get true partnerships with innovative technologies that we can bring into the business to help us innovate and make our business faster and better. Once these companies are accepted into The Bridge, we get a seven-month head start in figuring out together what is the best fit for working together.”

The Bridge 2017
Leaders from Coca-Cola, Turner and Mercedes-Benz share insights about the future of their respective industries at The Bridge HQ in Tel Aviv.

The program evolved out of the traditional incubator and accelerator models. “We've created an entirely new methodology of working with startups and integrating these entrepreneurial learnings and experiences into the culture at Coke,” Czertok said.

While typical incubators help early-stage startups raise seed financing, and accelerators help startups develop an identity and initial product concept, The Bridge focuses on commercialization by targeting later-stage startups with a working product and customer base.

'Bringing in partners such as Mercedes-Benz and Turner allows us to learn from other leading brands’ experience in deploying innovative solutions and improve our ability to find the best startups – because our value proposition gets stronger every year.'

“We look at all the things we think a startup needs in order to commercialize successfully,” Czertok said. “For example, these growth companies benefit from Coke’s branding and supply chain expertise to better understand how to tell their story and reach global markets.”

Coca-Cola and Turner have signed conducted 90 pilots and signed 27 license agreements contracts with some of the participating companies, to date.