European Media Incubators PepsiCo Style

Recently, we have noted that intrapreneurship is an emerging trend, perhaps even hotter than entrepreneurship. One of the hybrid expressions of these category leaders is the incubator inside the larger business. In the media industry in particular, the struggle to keep up with digital competitors creates a huge need for innovation. Chip Lebovtiz, writing for Fortune online, describes what two media companies across the Atlantic are doing.

The Irish Times and the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, are establishing intercompany startup incubators to harness young businesses’ disruptive energies. The (Irish Times Digital Challenge).. is akin to the plot of a Hollywood movie: a young up-and-comer works with a grumpy old mentor to overcome a problem, learning a valuable life lesson in the process. In this case, the problem is how to better monetize a company’s online presence and the life lesson is the experience startups get by working with a large company, says TheIrish Times Chief Innovation Officer Johnny Ryan.

Ryan is the brains behind (the competition), in which five early-stage companies  — 81 applied — spend eight weeks working at the Times to translate their pitch into virtual reality. While their ideas widely vary, their end goal is the same, to win €50,000 (about $61,000) from venture capital fund DFJ Esprit. The winning team must prove to the Times that its product provides the largest revenue potential and improvement to reader experience.

This is an interesting competition because large revenues and improved reader experience may be mutually incompatible. One has to wonder whether the intrapreneurs have the latitude to recommend strategies that may cannibalize longstanding business practices at the publisher.

BBC Worldwide Labs, a new business accelerator for startups, takes a similar but distinct tack. There is no competition between the fledgling companies and no prize money, but the six-month program offers a trophy of a different sort: the startups get a first client worth billions.

“The BBC can be a great first customer,” says BBC Worldwide Labs Head Jenny Fielding. The broadcasting giant can be “a partner at the point of commercialization for these companies.”

This approach is intriguing because of the built-in customer aspect. Many start-up companies struggle with defining a target market that is both large enough and profitable enough to serve as the fledgling enterprise scales. Yet, by becoming a captive supplier, does the intrapreneur become prejudiced against other viable market development opportunities?

What makes these programs distinctive is that the startups operate just down the hall from the people implementing their products. This proximity to the client is designed to overcome obstacles usually found in interactions between startups and large corporations.

Working with big companies is difficult for fledgling businesses. Fielding, in her role as the head of Digital Ventures at the BBC, often has to personally guide startups through the BBC’s diverse ecosystem. By situating the program in the BBC’s London Media Center headquarters, she expects the smaller startups to more quickly acclimate to and efficiently work with the larger BBC.

Neither the BBC nor The Irish Times will take equity stakes in the young companies they incubate. Instead, the media companies hope to establish a relationship with these startups that is ultimately scalable into a larger, future partnership…

Director of Global Digital and Social Media at PepsiCo Josh Karpf isn’t too surprised to see media companies adopt the (PepsiCo10 incubator approach)…”Technology is affecting every industry today, and media is no different, he says in an email to Fortune. “Companies that are trying to find technologies that will impact their businesses three to five years down the line are the ones who will win in the future.”


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