Disney Launches a Tech Accelerator: How Silicon Valley May Change Entertainment Design
Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Monday, February 17th, 2014
Last week, the Walt Disney Company shook the tech and entertainment design worlds with the announcement that it’s launching a partnership with Techstars. The goal of the accelerator is to help entrepreneurs turn their dreams of transformative new media and entertainment experiences into reality.
Disney Accelerator is a selective program that offers participants a unique opportunity. Ten startups will be chosen to move to Los Angeles for three months. The experience combines immersive incubation, mentorship, and seed-stage investment. All the companies chosen will be in the consumer media and entertainment experiences space. The goal is to develop a community of entrepreneurs, creative talent, experienced mentors, motivated investors, and technology experts. Their targeted entrepreneurial teams “dream big and have a vision to impact the future of the entertainment industry.”
The ten selected companies will spend 13 weeks together collaborating at a dedicated Disney Accelerator facility in LA. Each team will receive $120,000 in seed investment to catalyze the development process. In terms of access to intellectual properties, the teams will have access to stories, characters, resources and relationships from across The Walt Disney Company, including The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ESPN, ABC, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Consumer Products, and Disney Interactive.
Mentorship is a major component of the program. These come through both the Techstars program and Disney Executives. Teams will consult with Disney Executives, design talent, VC firms, entertainment industry leaders, and members of the broader entrepreneurship community. Techstars is offering support through its global network of investors, entrepreneur, and others dedicated to helping the startup community succeed.
The program ends with an investor day to help capture more in-depth venture capital investments to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the ventures. If the success of Techstars is any indicator, 8 out of 10 alumni raise an average of $1.6 million dollars. The program opened for applications in February, with a deadline of April 16th. The program launches in June and the investment day is in September.
Many experts have questioned Disney’s decision to invest in this way. But the promotion for the accelerator clearly ties the decision to the company’s history: “Walt Disney had a dream, and the entrepreneurial will to make that dream come true. Combining creativity and innovation, he built a company that is forever inventing new ways to tell great stories. From the Multiplane camera and the first feature-length animated film, to Audio-Animatronics® and computer-generated animation, Disney has always been at the forefront of technology.”
It’s also tied intimately to the company’s plans for the future. Disney’s decision to launch an accelerator is not an isolated move. Warner Brothers and talent agency CAA are also cultivating stables of talent to partner with celebrity brands. Disney’s most valuable assets and IP are its content. Investing in technology and experience design opens up future avenues for the company to monetize that content, from new design mechanisms (think Pixar) to new experience development. The focus is evident in the guidelines they’re providing. The competition is looking for well-rounded companies with strong founder teams, with technology powered consumer experiences. They’ve explicitly stated they’re not looking for ideas for attractions or screenplays. We’re excited to see the innovative companies and ideas that emerge out of the Accelerator and expect these firms to represent the next frontier of creative and technological development in the industry.