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Coca-Cola finds innovation with startups

Tom Kaneshige | May 25, 2015
The odds of a 129-year-old mega corporation unearthing innovative ideas or technology in-house are virtually impossible. Instead, the company turns to startups – and not your typical Silicon Valley startups.

Tel Aviv has a lively tech startup scene. Boehme enthusiastically lists Tel Aviv's winning traits: five percent of the population has PhDs; one startup for every 1,800 Israelis; world leader in patents per capita; and world leader in research and development spending. Best of all, it's under the radar.

"Tel Aviv won't have the Wall Street Journal covering you every day," Boehme says.

After stints as an incubator and accelerator, Coca-Cola settled on being a startup mentor that works with venture capital firms, not competes with them. Coca-Cola brings Israeli startups to the United States for training and expansion. Tapping its awesome marketing and branding expertise, Coca-Cola shows startups how to tell their stories to investors and customers and create buzz. Coca-Cola introduces startups to its partners in the supply chain, including giant retailer Walmart. Even Coca-Cola's tech partners, such as Amazon, Google, Cisco and Microsoft, will throw in free technology for startups.

"We're a great launch customer," Boehme says. "We can try things anywhere in the world, see if it works, take it somewhere and scale it."

Today, Coca-Cola is looking at startups in five areas: customer engagement, consumer retail, supply chain, marketing, and health and wellness.

CIOs must refocus to innovate

In a way, Boehme's startup mentorship program itself is an example of innovation. Coca-Cola wanted to be first in its market with unique technology, and Boehme struck upon a wholly new way (and place) to make this happen. He didn't follow an existing model, rather he made it up and pivoted as the program took shape.

The idea of being first may seem a bit startling to traditionally risk-adverse CIOs, yet it's something CIOs must get over to become innovators.


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