[Editor: Renny Gleeson, who created the initial concept for PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment) as well as the vision for its latest iteration, provides a guest post today. His hope is that it clarifies details and answers questions that have been raised about the program.]
While we’ve been building PIE, some questions and answers that have cropped up in one-to-one conversations seemed worthwhile to share with a broader audience.
Will working with W+K prevent me from working with any other ad agencies or non-W+K clients?
Nope. Urban Airship came through our doors and takes all comers. Out in the bigger world, non-PIE Facebook is a great example. Interpublic Group (IPG) owns a stake. Interpublic includes agencies like Huge, R/GA, Draft, Campbell-Ewald, Carmichael Lynch, and others. But that hasn’t prevented Facebook from working with pretty much every brand and agency around. Microsoft owns a piece of FB, and you’ve probably noticed you can get to FB through a lot of browsers besides IE.
By getting W+K and brands involved, companies stand a better chance of getting a program executed and their model validated—or hearing directly from the brands themselves what they need to do or how they could pivot for a major brand to be interested in their offering. If a PIE company does go for funding based on a marketer-supported model, a proven model built through interaction with some of the world’s most innovative brands should position them for success no matter what brand or agency they want to work with.
The maze a promising startup has to navigate to get in front of the right people at brands and agencies (and the cash and time burned to get there) can be painful, and if your technology is inconsistent with a brand’s infrastructure you could be DOA before you’ve fired up your powerpoint.
PIE is a way to go deep with some of the world’s biggest brands. Even if it doesn’t work out with them, you’ve at very least gotten input from some of the world’s best marketers informing your roadmap and product.
If you have a good idea and we can help validate your model, VCs/investors will be happy and other brands and agencies will follow.
Nothing inspires emulation like success! We do ask that brands that are participating in PIE and putting their sweat and time into helping and mentoring startups get a first look at activating with those startups on anything cool that comes out of the collaboration. And heck, they may even want to take an equity position in your company when you graduate.
But that’ll be up to the startups to decide.
Equity. What’s up with that?
The new PIE is a business. We had to start somewhere, so we decided to emulate the TechStars model (equity + discrete program window + cash for participating startups) and added a few other twists we believe make PIE valuable for the participating brands and startups. VCs and other investors we spoke with were enthusiastic the opportunity PIE affords to prove out the business models they get pitched (frequently predicated on brand/marketing dollars), and saw the stake as a valuable endorsement, not a deterrent, to subsequent funding. They responded particularly well to the fact we’re not asking for a preferred position, or a board seat, as many accelerators do.
Who are the PIE mentors?
Startups in this new class at PIE get W+K digital strategists, technologists and creatives with silly amounts of global brand experience, but we are particularly excited about the mentors from the brands themselves, who represent a “who’s who” of global marketing, innovation and digital thought leadership. A few folks on the roster include Coca-Cola’s global head of social media, their top mobile folks, their head of sports and entertainment relationships and the global heads of creative excellence, integrated communications, and design. Target has put their head of digital experience, head of emerging business and incubation, and creative vision folks into the mix, and both companies are providing technology infrastructure leads, retail/shopper technology folks and brand experience people. The brand mentors join the existing mentor network drawn from the startup, mobile, and tech scenes. We hope this mix will create a truly unique experience for participating startups.
Why are we doing this?
Because we don’t have all the answers. Because we believe that the people who collaborate to innovate will win. And innovation is core to the business at W+K and for our brand partners. The brand and technology mentors that have come together around PIE, the ability to scale an idea across multiple brands with massive reach and off-the-chart awareness scores, interaction with other startups and W+K involvement is something you can’t get anywhere else but here, and that’s the result of a lot of people who believe PIE represents something truly unique, both for the industry and for Portland.
What experience does PIE leadership bring to the table?
PIE leadership is a bunch of entrepreneurs and folks eager to make things happen. I’ve personally been involved in three startups; Chris DeVore is a VC, founder of Founder’s Coop and Tech Star’s Seattle; Rick has been working in Portland area startups for more than 16 years; and Nick Barham has started two businesses ventures in China and is leading another group here. The extended mentor group has poured blood and sweat into their businesses and are eager to help others succeed. Everyone involved wants to see kick-ass innovation. Help startups and creative, disruptive miscreants succeed. And businesses thrive.
How is PIE v.2 different from the first iteration?
In a lot of ways, but to highlight a few, in PIE v.1, everyone paid into a kitty to support the space and the experience…equity was a discussion with all companies that came through, but we were darn flexible. We didn’t have the formal mentorship program we are building now. Nor did we offer startups cash. Nor did we have brands integrated into the mix. PIE v.2 is a new thing that addresses those gaps. We wanted to better reflect the Open Source and mobile communities native to Portland. Brands in the mix give us huge palettes to work with. The model continues to evolve—that’s why we call it an experiment.
Does PIE prepare all its participants for funding, or only for brand work?
Not all of our companies will go to the market for capital—but some will, and our VC mentors from Intel Capital, Founders Co-op, and Voyager will be looking out for them. Some start-ups may continue to bootstrap.
Some may be acquired. Some may apply to other incubator programs like TechStars or Y Combinator. Some may come from other programs looking to further refine their offerings. We want to support motivated innovators and disruptors and help build great businesses prepared for their next step—whatever that next step may be.
In the spirit of the experiment, one change, effective immediately: We are removing the “per founder” funding calculation. If your startup is selected, regardless of founder composition, it’s entitled to receive the $18,000 stipend.
Thanks for listening, and if you’ve got a great idea, apply to PIE! And hurry! The deadline is August 1. That’s Monday.
Oh. And one last thing. I’d like to thank our mentors for all their hard work to date, and also extend an invite to all interested folks out there. If you’d like to put your name in the ring to be a PIE mentor, please let Rick know!