By Péralte C. Paul
Like many small technology firms, StarMobile Inc., a two-year-old startup, doesn’t have a big marketing budget.
The Atlanta-based startup’s technology helps large enterprises extend their legacy business applications to their mobile devices — quicker, simpler and at a lower cost than then any other solution. And by mobilizing those applications — such as a company’s time management reports — StarMobile enables employees to work from anywhere thus, increasing productivity and ROI.
But for any startup, getting in front of the corporate decision makers who can best understand and more importantly, utilize its services can be a challenge.
Thanks to an innovation expo between Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) and The Coca-Cola Company, StarMobile and other startup technology firms had an opportunity to present their business solutions to the beverage giant’s top leaders and researchers at the GT Innovation Expo held Sept 25.
“Being on a limited budget and with limited resources, events like this are amazing,” said Kristen H. Rachels, StarMobile’s marketing and communications director.
“We had the opportunity to put our technology directly into the hands of key decision makers at Coca-Cola today, which allowed them to experience first-hand the benefit that StarMobile can provide for their company.
Increasingly, major corporations have realized the need to meet these small startups early on through partnerships such as the one between Coca-Cola and EI2, Tech’s chief business outreach and economic development arm.
The goal of this “open innovation” trend: see how cutting-edge and external technologies can drive growth in their business.
Coca-Cola launched its global External Technology Acquisition (ETA) program two years ago for that reason and created nine ETA hubs globally, including one in Atlanta with Tech.
“Events like this build bridges between our Company and Georgia Tech that facilitate collaborations,” said Dr. Shell Huang, senior director of Coca-Cola’s ETA program. “This adds value to our business by giving us the opportunity to leverage the technology and solutions presented to us. We know that some of the best ideas come from organizations outside of our Company.
Tech’s EI2 is tasked with economic development and growth initiatives across the state, including the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), one of the nation’s premier technology startup incubators.
The startups that presented their technologies to Coca-Cola executives and researchers are all based out of ATDC, which, through its Industry Connect program, made the connections with the beverage company.
Industry Connect, which identified the startups with technologies that could best help Coca-Cola with its operations, bridges angel investors and Fortune 1000 firms with ATDC companies whose technologies best meet their needs. Through Industry Connect, ATDC is working with other multi-national firms for similar innovation expos.
Frank Mess (pictured), chief operating officer of Soneter, another ATDC-based startup, said tapping into its resources and corporate connections has been critical to the growth of his company.
Soneter’s technology allows homeowners to detect water leaks and monitor water usage in real-time, without having to cut pipes to install meters. The company, which is projecting a retail launch of its consumer meters by the summer of 2015, is looking at commercial applications of that technology for corporations, including a pilot project at Coca-Cola.
The pilot calls for the installation of Soneter’s meters at a local Coca-Cola production facility to help the company in its goal toward reducing water usage, Mess said.
“Our introduction to Coke came because of an ATDC showcase in 2013 in which senior level operations and R&D [research and development] people from Coke visited the ATDC showcase,” Mess said.
“They saw our product and our technology and they were able to see where it might have application within an industrial environment,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to ongoing development at EI2,” he said. “All of these opportunities really revolve around us being in the community at ATDC and EI2.”