Disney Accelerator Showcases First Startup Class
Ten companies presented at the studio's first demo day
Technology investors converged on Walt Disney Co.'s Burbank lot on the afternoon of Oct. 14 for the first Disney Accelerator demo day, a public outing for the group of 10 startups that the studio has mentored over the last three months.
Demo days are a dime a dozen in the technology community, but many of the investors milling around after the presentations noted how struck they were by the event. Several called it the "most polished" demo day they had ever attended.
Disney announced in February that it had enlisted the help of Techstars — a Boulder, Colorado, startup accelerator — to launch and run its first such program. The studio pledged to seed 10 startups with $120,000 in funding and provide three months of mentorship over the summer. Tuesday's demo day, held in a theater packed full of executives, mentors and investors, was the culmination of that program, where the startups unveiled what they had accomplished during the Disney Accelerator.
Disney CEO Bob Iger opened the event by noting that the accelerator is an extension of the studio's "unbelievable legacy of great technology and innovation."
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"For the last 15 weeks my team and I have been engaged with a collection of really exciting people and exciting companies and they have energized us, opened our eyes to all kinds of new ideas," he continued, "and at the same time we have given them access to our vast resources, our executives and our businesses. I think it has been a mutually beneficial process, one that we have benefited substantially from — and we believe that the companies involved have as well — and one that we fully intent to continue at this company after this particular round is completed."
After additional opening remarks from Techstars CEO David Cohen, the companies took the stage one-by-one to introduce their products. A number of the startups announced milestones during their presentations. Notably, Smart Toy CEO Carly Gloge revealed that her company — which makes interactive plush animals — has been acquired by L.A. toy manufacturer Cartwheel Kids. The company is also in talks with Disney Consumer Products to create a line of interactive plush toys based on Disney characters. Meanwhile, SnowShoe, which has developed stamps that can unlock digital content when placed against a touch screen, announced that it has raised $2.2 million in seed financing.
Two companies launched mobile apps during the demo day. Codarica announced its CodeQuest, a game that teaches kids to code, and Choremonster introduced its app, which manages a child's chore schedule through the character Frank, an affable purple monster who was busy trying to sneak onto the set of Star Wars: Episode VII.
Tyffon, the mobile app developer behind ZombieBooth, which has been downloaded more than 30 million times to turn people into zombies using selfies, announced that it has partnered with Disney to turn people into their favorite characters, from Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean to Elsa in Frozen.
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Partnerships with Disney abounded during the event, as each company found unique ways to integrate their technology with the studio's varied brands and portfolio companies. Naritiv, a marketing and analytics platform that connects brands with influencers on Snapchat, announced that it is working with Radio Disney and ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars to help them launch on the photo messaging app. Sidelines used the demo day to explain its content marketing platform, which is working with clients such as ESPN and Disney Interactive to create people-powered discussions that act as native ads.
The other companies that presented during the demo day include mobile video platform Jogg, robotic toy company Sphero and personalized storytelling startup Twigtale.
The event showcased just how invested Disney became in the companies it selected for the accelerator. A number of executives met with the companies during the three-month program and several became mentors to specific companies. Disney Interactive president James Pitaro worked with Twigtale, which creates stories that families can personalize to address life-changing moments with their children such as a new sibling or the death of a loved one. The company announced Tuesday that it has partnered with Disney Jr. to introduce characters like Doc McStuffins into its stories.
"Having the opportunity to sit with and engage with all these fantastic and smart people was invigorating," Pitaro said. "This wasn't a one-way street where I was just mentoring them. To be honest, I probably learned as much — if not more — than what they learned throughout this experience."