Coke reveals details of its tech start-up network

Web Summit 2014: Coca-Cola has revealed how it plans to be at the forefront of digital innovation by creating a global network of technology start-ups.


The soft drinks giant launched the Coca-Cola Founders network last year in order to diversify its revenue lines and expand its role as a digital content provider. However the launch was not publicised as Coke instead set about finding and investing in the first set of seed-stage tech firms.

At the Web Summit in Dublin today, Coke’s vice-president of innovation David Butler gave a detailed explanation of how the network operates, describing it as “the first time we’ve talked about this publicly”.

Operating in eight cities across the world including Singapore, Buenos Aires and San Francisco, the network sees Coca-Cola’s innovations and partnership teams immerse themselves in local start-up communities, seeking out company founders who require seed investment and advice.

Such founders are brought inside Coca-Cola to understand its values and the potential for technology partnerships with the brand. Once the start-up achieves a sustainable business model, Coke’s investment is converted into equity in the company.

Early investments include Wonolo, a San Francisco-based app that helps businesses to better manage their staffing levels and Winnin, a video sharing and social networking platform developed in Rio de Janeiro.

Coca-Cola’s decision to formalise its technology strategy comes after several high profile investments in digital properties, including a deal with Spotify in 2012. This included a branded tie-up and marketing campaign with the online music platform. Coke plans to use the Founders network to further expand Coca-Cola’s own digital content and develop new revenue lines.

“We’re in pretty much every country around the world, so the opportunity to grow the business is not as obvious as it once was,” said Emmanuel Seuge, Coke’s vice-president of global alliances and ventures, who was speaking alongside Butler. Last month the company announced a 14% drop in profits for the third quarter of this year as a consequence of the falling global demand for soda drinks.

Butler said that Coke’s presence at the Web Summit was indicative of its commitment to working with technology start-ups. “A lot of people have said to us ‘you’re not a tech company, why are you here?’

“The truth is that we’re here to learn. We’re just getting started in this area and we want to go deep. This isn’t just a PR thing for us.”