Set to take the stage on Tuesday is a new kind of Mickey Mouse Club.
Walt Disney Co. will host a Demo Day unveiling the first graduating class of the Disney Accelerator, a 12-week program in which media tech startups received investment capital, mentorships, workshops and Disney resources to help them quickly scale up. Ten startups will present to high-level Disney executives, potential investors and other studio heads in the hopes of snagging their next big client.
The Disney effort, in which it and TechStars, a Boulder, Colo., accelerator that helped run the program, take an equity stake in exchange for their resources and a small amount of cash, is the latest example of Hollywood’s growing interest in bankrolling tech startups.
United Talent Agency last year partnered with USC and VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to create the Viterbi Startup Garage, a university-run accelerator to help student and alumni entrepreneurs. And Warner Bros. graduated the second accelerator class from its Media Camp in August.
“Technology is changing Hollywood and has been changing Hollywood for decades,” said Ashish Soni, an associate professor at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and founding director of the Startup Garage. “Having programs like this lets studios tap into a broader set of ideas and helps these companies transform themselves for the next generation.”
The programs offer a creative environment that can help a startup get past the lobby floor of the Mouse House and other entertainment studios.
But this is show business. And for studios, an in-house accelerator is a great way to get first dibs on emerging media technology that could give it a leg up on the competition.
Ubooly, a creator of children’s learning toys whose content can be updated via a mobile app, is one startup that was chosen to participate in the Disney Accelerator. Chief Executive Carly Gloge said the company was already in high-level and exploratory talks with Disney about future products when Ubooly was accepted into the accelerator.
“We felt the Disney Accelerator would allow us, instead of negotiating across the table, to be on the same side as Disney,” she said.
But some of Ubooly’s early investors were wary. It had already graduated from a TechStars accelerator program in Boulder in 2012, and joining a second accelerator could imply the startup wasn’t doing so hot. But one of Ubooly’s angel investors had her own company acquired by Disney, and Gloge was told she’d be crazy not to join.
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