Creating a Bridge – Developing and Connecting an Entrepreneurial Community with Major Global Markets
In my experience, there are two types of companies with regards to Corporate Social Responsibility. There are the ones who have prepared many presentations on this issue, printed out nice brochures and organize spotlight events. Then there are the ones who walk the talk and act accordingly. Coca-Cola belongs to the latter category. Have you ever listened to a powerful speech in which a company group VP has not mentioned a company product but rather shared a proven concept of social transformation through technology entrepreneurism?
Meet Anthony Newstead, Global Group Director, Emerging Technologies & Strategic Innovation and a co-founder of BridgeCommunity in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Meet the man who is behind the remarkable project that brings together big corporations, start ups and engages them to benefit local communities. Meet the man who thinks that more women should enter technology and coding, so the discipline will cease to be perceived as the male logic oriented field but rather it will present itself as a creative art. Meet the man to whom corporate, start ups and public co-operation comes naturally as he lives it. A career that began in music, took Newstead through a detour into programming, migrated into investment banking. He then progressed into leading large-scale multi-year Business Transformation initiatives within Coca-Cola Bottling, around Western and Eastern Europe, including Vending Operations in the Far East.
After taking up an engagement leading business development in a UK financial startup he made a return to Coca-Cola in Interactive Marketing, leading a cross-functional team in a Pan-European iTunes and Coca-Cola collaboration.
Currently based in Atlanta, Newstead is focused on leading an IT Innovation Pipeline powered by the creation and co- founding of “The Bridge”, a commercialization program for startups that was initially piloted in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Newstead led the creation and co- founding of the North American spin-off, BridgeCommunity, in collaboration with a number of large locally-based organizations. The BridgeComunity is a unique program that grows the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlanta through startup engagement, partnerships, a powerful corporate member-to-member network and a local community initiative to help raise the technical skill level from high school onwards.
Dear Anthony, we met at the Global Female Summit in Berlin, which prides to be the economic forum that hosts 300 plus female executives. Even though Coca-Cola prides itself for gender diversity and inclusion, in what aspects did you find your speaking experience to almost exclusively female executive large audience unique?
It was an absolute honor to be invited to speak at the Global Female Summit. The breadth of experience and intellectual power at the event was an impressive experience. From my perspective, the passion each person applied to their roles, their desire to learn, query and absorb new ways of addressing key business problems was absolutely energizing. I’d also say the sense of belonging, a feeling of a collective will to share and support each other in their respective business fields is a unique aspect of this network.
You shared the example of BridgeCommunity in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola and other corporations partner with the community of startups in order to help the local communities. What was the reason to launch the cooperation of various entities that could be represented by opposites “Davids” and “Goliaths” together?
The prime objective of BridgeCommunity is to connect with software technology startups that have products and services with the potential to address the key business challenges we face. We took the decision to reach out to fellow corporates with an equal interest in engaging with startups for a number of reasons. This ensures that each corporate member only needs to make a modest financial contribution, which collectively provides the program with sufficient funds to proceed. It also relieves the pressure of engagement on each commercial brand. When a corporation makes the decision to run an equivalent program run on their own, there is an implicit pressure to provide opportunities for each and every startup that is brought in. If a startup exits the program without any tangible opportunity the danger is they will spread the word in the local community that brand ‘x’ are not to be trusted. In effect, each startup in the program is a brand ambassador for the underlying corporate and needs to be treated as such, which can be di cult to sustain on an ongoing basis for one corporate. In the case of the Atlanta BridgeCommunity, the program can bring in 20+ startups each year with each corporate focusing only on the ones most relevant to themselves, safe in the knowledge that the other corporate members are doing the same, with the net result that all startups find opportunities. By joining forces with other large, locally-based organizations we amplify the attractiveness of the program to prospective startups and enhance significantly the training we provide them, with the addition of a diverse range of business expertise from our corporate members.
However, your project did not start in Atlanta, but in Tel Aviv…
Yes, we launched a program called The Bridge in Tel Aviv, back in 2014, with a core focus on collaborating with early stage startups to access new consumer technologies, in return for which we provide the opportunity to leverage our marketing expertise. Since launching we have welcomed Turner Broadcasting and recently Mercedes Benz to join us in Tel Aviv. We’re now in our fourth cohort cycle (one per year) and have had a number of successful startup engagements, including for example “Bringg”, who have created an “Uber” for the enterprise platform to support delivery of products and services on demand. In parallel, back in 2015 we took the decision to spin-out a new venture called BridgeCommunity, that took the core startup engagement methodology established in Tel Aviv, with a more holistic focus on expanding developing startup communities in collaboration with local corporations and with a strong community focus. The pilot for this community model was launched in Atlanta in 2016 with IHG, The Weather Company, Cox Enterprises and Capgemini. This year we have been delighted to welcome Porsche Financial Services and SunTrust Bank as new Corporate Members and have also joined forces with the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Team, providing access to Philips Arena – the 4th busiest arena in North America – as an engagement lab for testing out products and services from BridgeCommunity startups. Atlanta was a deliberate choice for the launch location, it has a growing startup community, great transport connections, strong university foundations, a passionate local authority support, it has more fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city than in Silicon Valley and of course it is the home of Coca-Cola. We have a deep connection to the city and BridgeCommunity was the perfect vehicle to support the local community while at the same time bringing value to our company and our corporate members.
Have you envisaged spreading your concept to other regions, such as Central and Eastern Europe?
The BridgeCommunity model is not simply an Atlanta model, it is instead a model structured to expand and amplify developing startup communities, with Atlanta as our pilot, founding location. The vision of the program is that there is hidden talent out there, in places of the world that tend to be over-looked in favor of more established locations.
During our conversation, you mentioned your passion for students not to become just “coders” but rather “technological developers” and you outlined the need to support creative arts…
I believe passionately that we should be developing creative individuals grounded in technology, creative technologists, rather than pure coders. I want them to not just code but to understand and intuitively feel the beauty in the code. It’s that creative thought, that intuitive leap that helps to generate amazing, innovative ideas. Ultimately I’d like to re-position coding as an art instead of a science. In my opinion you can either pick up a paintbrush, a pen, a chisel or a keyboard; all are tools to ‘create’. All of this helps to address the supply-side of any startup community.
I liked your parallel that start ups are the new punk rockers. Given the statistics, many millennials do not find big corporations attractive anymore… Can corporations become punk rockers and if so, how?
The challenge for enterprises is to find a way to harness this creative, innovative force to re-energize their own business. Interestingly, as much as growing startups are trying to act and become ‘big’, enterprises are equally keen to act and become ‘small’– the intersection of those two paths is where programs like BridgeCommunity can really help. Engaging with startups can act as shot of adrenaline into a large enterprise that has the potential to not only bring short-term value through the provision of products and services, but can also help to generate an entrepreneurial mindset within the workforce. It is indeed possible for enterprises to re-discover their maverick, innovative roots, but it does require senior executive commitment for change. The trick is to treat the expansion of an innovation strategy that includes startup engagement as ultimately a cultural change initiative across the organization. Question everything, challenge your teams to improve their respective areas, encourage rapid experimentation, give permission to innovate and partner with startups.
Next months, you are starting the project with public schools. So far, students from less fortunate backgrounds were given laptops to start to learn coding. At the same time, you engaged their parents to use the laptops themselves, through adult training classes, to help ensure the parents gain value as well. So far, you have been engaged in start ups and in educational communities…Are there any limits for public-private engagement?
Fundamentally, the aim of the BridgeCommunity program is to provide opportunities: Opportunities for corporations to share knowledge and learn from each other, opportunities for startups rapidly accelerate their route to market through tactical training and exposure to relevant corporations and opportunities for students to become the next set of future software technology entrepreneurs where such options are limited. In doing all this the Community benefits through an in flux of entrepreneurial talent, the Corporations benefit through access to talented interns and innovation startup solutions and young adults benefit through a tangible chance to transform their lives. This can only be done effectively through close private-public partnership and I am extremely grateful for the local authority and local non-profits support and goodwill we have received, together with the amazing support and commitment from our corporate members that has collectively helped us progress this program to where it is today. It is not the sole mechanism to drive value, but as we move forwards, where we see value creation opportunites for our corporate members that also can tangibly benefit the local community in some form a public- private model may well be the solution.
Your final words to Czech and Slovak Leaders readers…
I would just like to stress that BridgeCommunity itself is a startup, we are learning as we go along, with the twin desire to do good in the community while also bringing tangible value to our company and our corporate members. In addition I believe it’s also a testament to the open innovation spirit within Coca-Cola that has provided myself the internal support to get this initiative off the ground. It’s that willingness to take a risk, to provide an employee the support necessary to realize a dream that can transform organizations from within and is I believe a powerful first step for an enterprise to take on their innovation journey. Embracing the startup community can be hugely rewarding, but looking within first, providing the tools, the streamlined processes and the entrepreneurial mindset culture internally before you engage will help ensure all sides benefit.
The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine.