The Walt Disney Company is getting into the startup incubator business with the launch of a new program called the Disney Accelerator.
Disney says it’s looking for 10 “early-stage companies with innovative consumer media and entertainment product ideas.” Those startups will receive a $120,000 investment and mentorship from the tech and entertainment industries, as well as from leaders in various Disney divisions (including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ESPN, and Walt Disney Imagineering), not to mention Disney CEO Bob Iger.
The company describes the program as “powered by Techstars.” (Other companies that have partnered with Techstars for their own startup accelerators include Barclays, Microsoft, and Sprint.) Kevin Mayer, Disney’s executive vice president of corporate development, told me via email that the organizations are “working hand in hand” with Techstars bringing its accelerator experience and Disney offering its executives, intellectual property, and other resources.
I asked Mayer whether the Disney Accelerator’s goals are primarily financial or strategic, and he said, “This is about identifying and mentoring startups with innovative ideas that could help transform the media and entertainment business.” He also pointed to Disney’s history of “firsts.”
“By way of example, in 1928, Disney launched the first cartoon with fully synchronized sound,” Mayer said. “In 1932 it premiered the first full-color cartoon. In 1937 came the first animated feature film and in 1955 the first modern theme park was opened. We have also been leaders in entertainment technology development with inventions like the multiplane camera, audio-animatronics, circle-vision 360° and Fantasound. I see Disney Accelerator as an extension of this legacy and a new way of bringing together the creative energies of the media/entertainment and startup communities to inspire innovation.”
A more recent sign of Disney’s interest in the tech world was its appointment of Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square (he’s chairman at the former company and CEO at the latter), to its board of directors, where he joined Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and former Sybase CEO John S. Chen.
The accelerator will be based in Los Angeles. Applications are due by April 16, with the program scheduled to begin on June 30 and an investor demo day planned for September.