Editor's NoteA team from Coca-Cola traveled to Dublin, Ireland, last week for the 2014 Web Summit, one of the world's most influential and international events, bringing together the tech world, big brands, venture capitalists, students and startups from around the world (“The Davos for geeks”). The three-day conference, which drew more than 20,000 attendees, provided a high-profile platform for Guy Wollaert, David Butler, Emmanuel Seuge and their colleagues to explain how innovation continues to play a key role in the company's growth equation and share the story of Coke's collaboration with startups and entrepreneurs. The company also sponsored PITCH 2014, which invited 200 startups to present their business models to a panel of judges. Coke will give the two winning teams, Codacy and BaseStone, access to its resources, relationships and reach early next year through a week-long mentoring session in Atlanta. Here, Butler shares his 10 key takeaways from the Web Summit:

1. The Web Summit is the new Woodstock. If you’re reading this and you’re under 30, you probably don’t even know what Woodstock was but that’s kind of the point. The Web Summit had over 100 CEOs, 500 speakers, 8500 students, 900 exhibitors, 1000 journalists and 22,000 attendees from over 100 countries. They were all there for three days of talks, demos and networking. The Summit was THE place to be—I don’t know of a more concentrated place to find out what’s really going on.

2. Working in a startup is the new MBA. I would guess that 50% of the attendees at the Summit were Millennials. This isn’t all that striking until you realize that they are also all entrepreneurs. None of them were there looking for ways to join big established companies or go back to school. They were there to get help in scaling their startup. And I believe, this is the new normal.

3. The Pitch was stellar. This year, the Coca-Cola Company was one of the Summit’s anchor partners—we sponsored “The Pitch” where 200 startups pitched in front of the world’s top venture capitalists, advisors and companies for a chance to be named “Winner of PITCH 2014.” I had a chance to judge one of the stages of the competition. The quality of the pitches were, for the most part, awesome and most of the startups pitched to standing-room-only audiences.

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David Butler speaks at the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin about how Coke is forming win-win partnerships with startups through the Coca-Cola Founders platform.

4. Every industry is at risk of disruption. I saw food startups, real estate startups, startups focused on the building industry, education startups, security startups, and even finance startups. One of my big takeaways was that if there is an industry with a problem that technology can help simplify or make less expensive, there are probably at least 10 startups working on the solution right now. 

5. Partnering with startups is a strategy, not an experiment. When you’re at an event like this, it’s easy to see who’s really in it and who’s sort of faking it. Not surprisingly, companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft were represented well. But surprisingly, there weren’t many “non-tech” companies there. American Express really stood out as an exception but there weren’t many others.

6. “Coke is not a tech company, why are you here?” This was a question I got from founders, the media, CEOs and even the barista who made my coffee one day. We clearly made an impression but it wasn’t intuitive for us to be there. But once we had a chance to really engage and talk about how we’ve grown our business by partnering with entrepreneurs to grow theirs for over 100 years, it made sense to most. Coca-Cola is not a “tech” company but we know how to be great partners and that’s what everyone there was looking for. It seemed to be a really fresh message for most. 

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Guy Wollaert outlines Coke's holistic approach to innovation at the Web Summit.

7. We validated our Coca-Cola Founders model. We launched our Coca-Cola Founders platform over a year ago but haven’t really talked about it externally until the Summit. We wanted to spend the time we needed to actually get some traction so it didn’t come across as a “PR stunt.” We had a chance to really explain our model and connect it to what we’ve been doing with Spotify, Misfit and other later stage startups. We also let the media and others get to know two of our co-founders, Gian Martinez and Wilton Neto and their startup called Winnin. We were purposely very transparent and real with both our successes and failures and it really connected.

8. As far as trends go, social, mobile and wearable tech were big. One of the overriding themes was that to be relevant going forward, brands must be extremely social, mobile and perhaps wearable (as in wearable tech) or they simply won’t be seen as relevant. A lot of brands (including Facebook) were characterized as needing to catch up or be left behind.

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Emmanuel Seuge speaks at the Web Summit about Coke's approach to venture partnerships as David Butler looks on.

9. 'On-demand' and 'native advertising' were also hot. Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of Sherpa Ventures and an early investor in Uber, spoke about how he thought that there were many other industries that could be disrupted through on-demand services. Native advertising (sponsored content) was another hot topic. When we shared details around two of the startups in our platform, Wonolo (an on-demand staffing service) and Winnin (a social media platform leveraging native advertising), it was as if we had planned it that way.     

10. The global startup community is becoming more diverse. One of the most refreshing things to see was so much diversity. If The Summit is a good indicator of where the global startup community is going, then thankfully, we are finally moving to a much more diverse place. Attendees were young, old, male, female and from more than 100 countries. It seems like we’re finally moving to the next level in terms of diversity.

David Butler is vice president of global innovation and entrepreneurship at Coca-Cola. Follow him on Twitter @DavidRButler.