Disney’s partnership with robotics startup Sphero epitomizes the powerful, results-driven nature of what happens when brands and startups work together to drive innovation.
As you may have heard, Disney put Boulder-based Sphero in charge of designing the BB-8 droid, a robot starring in the upcoming film Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It all started last year, when Sphero joined Disney’s three-month-long accelerator program. As part of the program, Sphero received an investment of $120,000 as well as a Disney executive as a mentor. The mentor assigned to Sphero happened to be Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Now, Sphero — once a tiny, little known startup — is on track to become part of mainstream culture (we bet Sphero could turn out to be a billion-dollar idea). Just last month, Sphero raised an additional $45 million to fund product research and IP development.
“We’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to contribute to culture at a scale we never thought possible,” Sphero Chief Creative Officer Rob Maigret told Business Insider earlier this year.
Here’s why the Sphero-Disney partnership worked and what you can learn from it:
- Timing matters. Sphero was looking to take its existing — and successful — products to the next level when it got accepted to the accelerator, and Disney’s Iger saw an opportunity to merge the technology with a legendary franchise. If Sphero had only developed a prototype when it met Iger, the partnership would not have worked.
- The right process matters. Disney’s accelerator program provided a simplified way for Sphero to get in front of influential executives and better understand Disney’s culture. The process can take many shapes. For example, the Unilever Foundry has prioritized and centralized the CPG’s startup partnerships. Heineken’s Frontier program was based on four challenges and had specific deadlines to ensure outcomes.
- Find your internal champion. From everything we’ve read, having the support of Iger and Rob Maigret (who worked for Disney after it acquired the startup he co-founded) made it possible for the partnership to progress from the idea stage to execution. If you’re not finding an influential exec who gets your value-prop and is willing to put you in front of decision-makers, your odds of securing a pilot or longer-term partnership go way down.
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