More than 90 percent of all tech startups fail. And there are nearly as many reasons for this as there are tech startups: Some companies spend too much time and money developing and launching their product; others hire management teams without the business acumen to structure a company properly; still others never effectively brand or sell their ideas and concepts to investors and customers. But all have one common thread: They’re the result of gaps in knowledge that the founders of a startup, mostly “idea people,” thought could be filled in later. This lapse in judgment often ends up being the company’s Achilles Heel — and ultimately, the likely cause of their demise.

Giving Tech Startups a Leg Up

As anyone involved in a startup can attest, starting a high-growth business is roller-coaster ride. It has high and lows, is fast and furious and can make you as sick as a dog or as happy as a clam. But unlike an amusement park ride, where half the fun is the unknown, when launching a new tech entity it’s always better when you know what to expect so you can prepare for it. Coca-Cola knows this and is looking to help fledgling tech companies get a leg up on the competition.

This past July, Coca-Cola launched an incubator-type pilot program in Israel called The Bridge. Essentially, The Bridge is a commercialization program designed to help bridge the gap between the local entrepreneurial community and major global markets, including Europe, Africa, Eurasia, the Pacific and especially the U.S.

A Give and Take Partnership

In a nutshell, the beverage giant is giving 10 small to medium-sized startups access to the secrets of its success. “We’re providing them with tactical guidance to help accelerate their route to market,” says Anthony Newstead, Coca-Cola’s Head of IT Innovation and Cofounder and Global General Manager of The Bridge.

What Coke is offering: “Branding advice, positioning, elevator pitches that don’t take 200 floors to complete, as well as the opportunity for these companies to trial their products and services within the Coca-Cola organization and possibly win Coke as a customer,” says Newstead. In return, the company is looking for first-mover advantage on products and services. What that means: Coke gets first dibs on the technology for a limited period of time. No equity financial investment is required and startups maintain ownership of their intellectual property. “We simply provide guidance and information targeted toward helping this company commercialize successfully within Coca-Cola and beyond,” explains Newstead.

But giving them access to understanding innovation and understanding brand building is a two-way street, stresses Newstead: “The relationship with the startups provides a shot in the arm for Coca-Cola as well, energizing us and helping/forcing us to act quicker, be more adventurous.”

Newstead goes on to say “Coca-Cola believes the technologies these startups offer have significant tangible value in the form of revenue generation potential to the company and the first mover advantage provides a powerful competitive advantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace.“

The Bridge Is a Startup Itself

Creating the program became something of a lesson in working like a startup for Newstead and company when he and Alan Boehme, Chief Enterprise Architect, CoFounder and Executive Director of The Bridge began putting the program together. “Our initial pitch at the beginning of the year was a standard Incubator model,” explains Newstead. “Upon arriving in Tel Aviv in early March and presenting to local entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, Alan and I realized the approach was not going to work. We pivoted quickly towards the commercialization program we now are running with—based largely on the feedback we got from those meetings. This act of genuinely listening, not only helped us create a better program but also established credibility and respect within the local startup community who were impressed by our willingness to take seek their guidance.

“We then ran incredibly fast for Coca-Cola. Between mid-March and mid-June we’d pivoted the plan, hired the local team of Gabby Czertok and Roi Ben Daniel, found and secured premises, organized legal contracts, chose the participants, and arranged a well-attended launch party with Ahmet Bozer, Executive Vice President and President, Coca-Cola International, opening the program. This is ‘startup speed’ and we have been continuing to learn and pivot as the program progresses. These 10 startups are helping us refine the program as much as we are helping them on their journey to commercialization.”

Selecting Promising Tech Startups

Gabby Czertok, Cofounder and General Manager of The Bridge in Israel, explains that to be considered for participation, candidates had to have serious technology as well as the potential to be successful. With that criteria in mind, The Bridge got recommendations on nearly 200 startups. They called in 137 for interviews, which were whittled down to 10 companies. Coke looked for young early-stage or growth companies with a solution that could fit one of five core themes: Consumer Engagement, Consumer Retail, Supply Chain, Marketing Innovation and Health and Wellness.

Educating Young Companies

Currently, the businesses are going through what can only be called a Master’s Program in Startup, only no degrees will be handed out. Coke executives in a number of departments, from marketing and business development to legal and accounting, are acting as mentors, evaluating the companies and their products and providing unbiased feedback in order to validate their marketing and operating strategies.

For example, a key component of The Bridge program is the custom Marketing DNA training provided by Marcie Anthone, Director of Communications Capabilities Development. Anthone has a wealth of experience in this area and her classes on branding, storytelling, positioning and more are a critical part of the program. Anthone also trains new marketers who join Coca-Cola so The Bridge participants really are getting insider training.

In the end, the aim is that all the startups will gain value out of the program, with a number of them being asked to partner with Coca-Cola and so far, the first class is impressive. Highlights include:

DOVe. The company is developing a software platform that supports data transmission over any kind of voice network, allowing retailers to market their products and enable mobile payment using any cell phone. “What makes DOVe unique is that we do it via the audio interface,” says Yehuda Yehudai, DOVE’s CEO and founder. Here’s how it works: Say you're at home watching television and you see a commercial for shoes. The DOVe signal can be embedded into the audio track by the shoemaker, sending a message to your smartphone, offering you a coupon, discount or some other incentive to buy the shoes being marketed on the TV.

How The Bridge is helping: “Until now, we have been a small startup, funded mostly by me and a small government grant,” says Yehudai. Through The Bridge program and Coke’s connections, we just today raised a half-million dollars. It also helped with the deal flow. “We recently signed up a vending machine customer for mobile payment,” adds Yehudai. “His interest was heightened by our inclusion in The Bridge.”

WeFind. Ofer Klein, the CEO of WeFind describes the company as a provider of “accurate, reliable communication and location-based promotional activities based on a crowdsourcing of smartphones, wristbands and any existing WiFi infrastructure.” Initially, the technology was used to track lost children and adults who were wearing a WeFind wristband. Today, the software has evolved into a larger proposition thanks to Coca-Cola’s advisers. For example, the same technology can be used to track a customer’s movements and send them an email, text or other call to action, delivering information such as where the parched customer can find an ice-cold Coca-Cola beverage within walking distance.

How The Bridge is helping: “Anthony and Gabby helped turn our proposition from a negative (looking for a lost child) into a positive (finding a place to quench your thirst.),” says Klein. They also were introduced to potential customers too. “It can take months and months to get appointments with senior decision makers,” says Klein. “Coke has made that process easy and makes sure we are taking to the right people.”

PersonalHeroes. This peer-to-peer platform turns kindness into currency. It can measure the kindness of people and allows users to tag, geolocate and measure people’s kindness. Using that information, PersonalHeroes creates a world index of what is kind and where are people kind. “Would you like to send your kids to the school where there are bullies or the school where people are kind?” asks CEO Stephie Knopel. “Would you like to live in a neighborhood that’s kind, a city that’s kind or would you like to work with a company that’s kind? It’s like a Yelp for goodness.”

How The Bridge is helping: “We went from an idea on paper to a working model in less than four months,” says Knopel. “That’s incredible.”

Screemo. CEO Adir Zimerman explains that "Screemo enables brands to engage with their audience in a timely and personalized way by using a mobile-to-screen interactive experience that turns customers into online users.” The platform helps companies drive people into stores and improve the buying experience. And if the store is closed, it drives those customers to an e-commerce site.

How The Bridge is helping: The program has helped the company with its positioning. Screemo wants to not only be the company helping brands build the ultimate mobile digital active experience, explains Zimerman, but eventfully the platform and company can provide the ultimate digital experience in general. “We need to provide the tools to create a better digital experience, faster,” says Zimerman.

These companies and their employees clearly started with strong ideas, but with this extra boost of real-world knowledge, the odds are that they will be part of that small percentage of startups that not only survive, but thrive.

You can learn more about the program here: The Bridge.