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Here's how startups are helping mega-brand Coca-Cola take on the future

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You wouldn't think a mega-brand like Coca-Cola needs any help, but the iconic American beverage company is leaning on startups to help set its self up for its next hundred years in business.

How? Through the Bridge, a startup program within the Coca-Cola Company, where new entrepreneurs are groomed and connected with the global community.

"I’m looking for what are those next things that'll have a significant difference for the Coca-Cola Company, our customers and our partners," Alan Boehme, who is Chief Technology Officer, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Architect at the Coca-Cola Company, told Circa. Boehme and his team founded the Bridge four years ago to enable Coca-Cola to engage directly with young organizations leading disruption in sectors from retail, marketing, tech and health and wellness.

Boehme said his day to day entails working alongside entrepreneurs and investors, and helping startups build out their innovations. "What we're trying to do here is to find that inflection point where startups that need help in scaling, they need to get fine-tuned in how they commercialize their product, and what we do is teach storytelling," he said.

According to Boehme, you only need a handful of things to succeed as a new company. You need access to capital, a minimal viable product, solid engineering, a fully developed idea and good timing. But most importantly, you need to be able to communicate your story.

"Storytelling's important in order to be able to attract customers, to attract investors, to attract employees," he said. "Coca-Cola has been one of the greatest storytelling organizations for over 100 years."

Coca Cola, Wall Street

The Coca-Cola logo appears above the post where it trades on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)


Boehme's background is in tech and IT. And he's shaped the Bridge in a way that will help re-shape the Coca-Cola brand as the world becomes more digitized.

In a nutshell, startups are provided with mentoring, marketing help and other training during the six-month program. According to the Bridge website, during the commercialization process, startups are given "an opportunity to pilot within Coca-Cola and a chance to license the startup’s product to Coca-Cola and/or its partners."

Since the Bridge launched, Turner Broadcasting and Mercedes Benz have joined Coca-Cola in its quest to "crowdsource the best and brightest ideas."

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"We're teaching them that in order to be able to take advantage of their technology, use their products in the marketplace, and reinvent Coca-Cola as we go," he said. Of the dozens of startups that have come through the program, some of the names that stood out most to Boehme included: Bringg, Cimagine, Fusic and Platica.

Boehme recalls working with Bringg, which was part of their inaugural class and which he describes as "the Uber for the enterprise." Coca-Cola was able to harness Bringg's technology to minimize its supply chain headaches. "It doesn't come with any vehicles, but it allows us to deal with out of stock problems that we have in small and medium-sized businesses, which used to take two to three days to fulfill, down to as little as 45 minutes in some cases," he said.

The greatest challenge Coca-Cola faces from a tech perspective, Boehme says, is scale. Despite its global presence, the company still has to be able to take its tech products abroad and make sure they're supported, accepted and used. "That in itself is a huge problem," he said.

"I always like to say we're going back to the future. A lot of the things that we're inventing today, we're actually reinventing other things that have occurred 10, 15, 20 years ago. We're just making them current."


See more related Circa stories:
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This 23-year-old Ford engineer already has nine patents. Did we mention she doesn't drive?

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