Coke building “bridge” to help Atlanta startups get off ground

Coca-Cola already has made it easy for you to mix and match its soft drink flavors with the Freestyle machines frequently used at restaurants and movie theaters. But what if the machine remembered your favorite concoction?

That’s one of the ideas Atlanta tech startup Engagecx pitched as a future innovation as part of its successful bid to be selected for the beverage giant’s Bridge program. The program is designed to bring nascent software developers together with large corporations that may one day use their products.

Engagecx has built software that that can create a profile of Freestyle users, which then can be relayed to the machine through personal devices, such as cell phones and tablets.

“For Coke, the benefit is making that instant connection with the customer and creating that loyalty,” said David Trice, Engagecx’s CEO and co-founder.

Launched in Tel Aviv in 2014, the Bridge program kicks off in Atlanta Tuesday with 10 startups participating. This year, Coke is partnering with The Weather Channel, InterContinental Hotels Group, Capgemini and Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The startups will get help building and testing their products, and making connections to people who can green-light tech innovations. More than anything, the companies could get a boost by citing Coca-Cola or IHG as a supporter.

Atlanta is trying to improve its image as a tech city on the national stage, but still lags compared to some other cities in luring Angel Investors and venture capital that are crucial to startup funding.

“It is critical for Georgia startups to connect with our enterprise companies,” said Tino Mantella, president and CEO of Technology Association of Georgia. “Often, young companies don’t know how to get in the door. This leads to frustration with some startups considering relocation out of the state, so the Coca-Cola initiative is a terrific step.”

In return, the corporations get new ideas or innovation from thinkers outside their corporate walls, said Alan Boehme, who runs the program for Coca-Cola.

“We are looking for startups that are trying to build a business, not just a product,” Boehme said.

Alex Taylor, executive vice president for Cox Enterprises, said creativity is key to a strong business.

“Cox Enterprises was founded by a great entrepreneur, my great-grandfather, Governor James M. Cox,” he said. “I want to make sure our company never loses its innovative roots and that our leaders always stay close to new ideas and next generation thinkers.”

For Mogean co-founder Nate Halsey, working with Coca-Cola and the others gets his company in front of corporate leaders he’d never have access to otherwise.

“We don’t have the resources of Coca-Cola to get to their vendors,” said Halsey, whose company specializes in mobile analytics. “We’d run out of runway before we could get to them without Coca-Cola.”

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