made the absurdly popular Old Spice campaign on TV and the web called "Smell Like a Man" announced today that it is now accepting applications from brand-friendly tech startups for admission to its incubator program, the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). The Portland, Oregon company has partnered with Nike, Target and Coca Cola to create a shared office space, mentorship plan, partnership considerations and a small funding opportunity. The project hopes to draw startups from a national pool of applicants.Wieden+Kennedy, the advertising agency that
Previous iterations of PIE have housed some strong technology startups, including Urban Airship, PHP Fog and BankSimple. Collaboration between PIE and some of these big brands has been technically interesting as well. Nike worked with PIE this Spring to hold a data hackathon that brought developers together to create mashups and analysis of newly opened data about the company's sprawling manufacturing and supply chain network.
The agency says it's looking for something a little different this time around: "We're looking for startups with an emergent opportunity in brand-aligned and business-aligned hardware, software, services or experiences, with a special focus on mobility."
Admitted startups will receive 3 months of collaborative office space (I've worked there before, it's good) and up to $18,000 in funding. Is that enough support to make interesting things happen? Can an advertising agency and big global brands really help create startups that are both meaningful to the program's sponsors and interesting to the outside world? Such are the questions that will be explored by the experiment.
The mentorships may be the most valuable part of the offering. PIE says that the participating brands will contribute "five cross-disciplinary mentors during the 3-month period, who collaborate with the startups, provide knowledge share and explore new business challenges and opportunities." I've agreed to act as a mentor myself as well, though for no financial compensation so I won't list it as a financial disclosure.
It probably won't be easy for an advertising agency to bring together huge global corporations and tiny little startups to build data-savvy, mobile, business-friendly technologies that have a lasting impact on the world - but it sure will be interesting to see them try.
Applications open today and will be accepted through August 1st.