Learning & Development

Start-Ups Benefit from Training Mentors

Today’s Advisor reports on a successful corporate mentorship program.

Many companies provide mentorships to employees within their ranks, and some also leverage the mutual benefits of external mentoring opportunities.
Last year, The Walt Disney Company launched a mentorship program called Disney Accelerator, which not only helps its own executives tap into entrepreneurial minds at technology-based start-ups, but it also enables the start-ups to learn valuable lessons and receive expert advice to help their businesses grow.
In the fall, 10 of these start-ups completed the inaugural mentorship and investment program. The 15-week immersive program gave them access to Disney mentors, up to $120,000 in investment capital to develop their companies, and special access to resources from across Disney.
“With Disney Accelerator, we are now bringing the creativity and imagination of Disney to early stage start-ups in a way we have never done before,” Kevin Mayer, Disney’s executive vice president, corporate strategy and business development, said when announcing the start of the program.
Start-ups selected for the inaugural program focused on a variety of products, such as connected toys, mobile video, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) applications, social media, and advertising technology.
Under the program, start-ups meet with mentors regularly and collaborate to build and expand business plans, product launches, and marketing campaigns, and to create long-term strategies, according to Disney.

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The program gives participants access to mentorship from more than 60 Disney executives, including Disney Chairman and CEO Robert A. Iger and leaders from Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC, ESPN, and Walt Disney Imagineering. In addition, the start-ups gain access to other entertainment industry leaders and investors, as well as to a network of technology mentors at Techstars, which powers Disney Accelerator.
The inaugural Disney program culminated with a Demo Day last fall where the start-ups presented their businesses to investors and entrepreneurs and shared significant milestones they had attained during the program. For example, Smart Toys, a company that makes toys that teach, talk, and interact with children, announced its acquisition by Cartwheel Kids, a company that manufactures children’s products.
SnowShoe, which develops plastic “stamps” that unlock digital content through smartphones, announced that it had secured $2.2 million in seed financing. Two other start-ups, ChoreMonster and Codarica, launched mobile apps; Sphero introduced a new tech product; and Twigtale announced that a renowned pediatrician and child development specialist had been named its editor-in-chief, according to Disney.
Mayer said the start-ups “made tremendous progress evolving and growing their businesses” while participating in the program. “It has been a fantastic learning experience for them and an opportunity for Disney to get in on the ground floor with a new generation of innovators.” Many of the start-ups in the inaugural program continue to work with Disney.
A second Disney Accelerator program is scheduled to begin in July 2015 and run until early October. Ten “technology-based start-ups with a vision for making an impact on the world of media and entertainment” will be selected to participate, Disney stated.

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“The Disney Accelerator was born of Disney’s long-term commitment to innovation and its position at the intersection of technology and entertainment,” said Mayer. “The 2014 Disney Accelerator demonstrated that pairing Disney’s creative and business talent with entrepreneurs can produce an energizing and valuable exchange of ideas and promote tremendous innovation. We look forward to working with a new group of start-ups in the months to come.”

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