Coke, Turner “bridging” what’s next with technology start-ups

Turner Broadcasting is joining Coca-Cola in efforts to build relationships with tech start-ups that can help the Atlanta giants keep pace in an increasingly changing digital world.

In what Coke has dubbed its “bridge” program, the companies are looking to the tech world to envision new ways to answer old challenges — such as designing a Coke store display virtually to reduce unnecessary physical labor — to designing products that make it easier to attract more eyeballs to Turner properties like the Cartoon Network and CNN.

“Every company needs to continuously reinvent themselves in order to keep growing,” said Alan Boehme, Coke’s chief technology officer. “Normally we look internal to do this, but as digital becomes more important to us, we have to reach out.”

That’s especially critical as its become more difficult to sort through the overwhelming amount of information disseminated every day, said Jeremy Legg, chief technology officer at Turner. How consumers get information changes rapidly and companies that thrive need to be ahead of the curve, not play catch up.

Coke and Turner are not alone in making technology a chief focus in future development. Many companies, such as Home Depot, have begun describing themselves more as technology businesses and several have opened offices near Georgia Tech to tap students creativity.

In the “bridge” program, start-ups focus on consumer engagement, consumer retail, supply chain, marketing innovation and health and wellness. Almost 30 entrepreneurs have participated since the program’s launch two years ago. Turner will be part of “bridge III.”

The program is not advertised, but referrals are made through word-of-mouth, Boehme said. The 150 to 200 who apply are whittled down to about 75. Only about 10 to 12 make the final cut.

The results are not limited to the short term, Legg said. The purpose is to solve issues that need to be addressed today, but to also look five years ahead in the future to plan for tomorrow’s challenges.

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