Disney, channeling Silicon Valley, launches startup accelerator

Working with Techstars, the media giant is forming 10 startups with mentors like CEO Bob Iger and giving them access to Disney's IP.

The Walt Disney Corporation headquarters, in Burbank, Calif. The Walt Disney Corporation

Disney on Wednesday launched its first-ever startup accelerator, a three-month program pairing 10 teams of entrepreneurs with mentors like CEO Bob Iger and giving them access to the media giant's IP.

The accelerator, which is accepting applications now through April 16, will be hosted in Los Angeles, Calif. It will be managed by Techstars, which has run similar programs for companies like Sprint, Barclays, and Nike. A team of judges from Techstars, Disney, and the venture capital community will pick the 10 startups, all of which will be given $120,000 each to try to get their companies off the ground.

Disney said that once the teams are selected, they will get access to senior Disney executives, including Iger, as well as from Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Walt Disney Imagineering. While Disney is pointedly not looking for scripts, according to Kevin Mayer, the company's head of corporate strategy, it is looking for startups with a technology focus that also have "transformative product ideas for the media and entertainment industries."

Added Mayer: "These could range from advertising or Web technologies to mobile apps and new business and monetization models, to name a few."

Mayer and Techstars CEO David Cohen said that Iger and the other mentors are expected to be involved throughout the program.

Asked why Disney is getting involved in an accelerator program, Mayer said the company "has a long, storied history of innovation -- from the multiplane camera to today's MyMagic Plus and Disney Infinity. We have long viewed technology as a friend, not a foe, and are always looking to find new ways of telling Disney stories, delivering the best Disney experiences, and identifying new avenues for growth for the company."

Disney and Techstars will take 3 percent stakes in the 10 startups. Cohen said that on average, 80 percent of Techstars graduates get some sort of venture capital investment, averaging about $2 million each.

Perhaps more importantly, access to Disney's intellectual property could help the companies break new ground in media- and entertainment-related industries. For example, Cohen said, the graduates of the Nike program were the first companies with access to the Nike Fuel Band API.

"In the case of Disney," Cohen said, "there's no promise you'll have Yoda as the character for your startup, but you're certainly one step close to those opportunities."

Correction (Wednesday, 12:38 p.m. PT): This story originally misstated who has equity in the startups participating in the accelerator.

 

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