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Wieden + Kennedy Explains PIE To PSFK

Wieden + Kennedy Explains PIE To PSFK
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Nick Barham from the creative agency explains how they will let start-ups collaborate with major brands like Coca-cola, Nike and Target to create ground-breaking brand experiences..

Dory Carr-Harris, PSFK
  • 20 july 2011

Today we announced the launch of a new initiative, PIE,  from agency Wieden + Kennedy that creates an easy way for large brands and Wieden clients to collaborate with, be inspired by, and learn from start-ups. We sat down for an exclusive interview with Nick Barham, Global Director of W+K Tomorrow about the latest project from the well respected creative agency.

Can you tell us what PIE is?

PIE is the Portland Incubator Experiment. It was originally cooked up in 2009 by Renny Gleeson, W+K’s Global Head of Interactive Strategies, and Rick Turoczy, who runs Portland tech blog Silicon Florist. It started off as a space in W+K’s Portland office where local start-ups could get some desks and coffee and work on building their businesses.

Since then, PIE has been home to 20 startups. Besides Urban Airship, it has helped BankSimple, a retail bank site that raised $3.1 million in first round funding, and PHP Fog, a cloud computing platform that secured $1.8 million in financing. Also on the roster was COLOURlovers, web tools and user community for color and design, which raised $1 million in funding. Two other startups in the program have been acquired: Bac’n, an online bacon superstore, and Bass Masta, an online resource for musicians.

You have been providing space in your Portland offices to start-ups for a while now. How is this different?

Up until now, it’s been a work space for start-ups. There was little connection to W+K or its clients. But seeing the energy and the ideas that have passed through got us thinking about ways to connect that spirit to the work we do for our clients. We wondered if PIE’s ability to curate technology and innovation, W+K’s connection to communication and popular culture, and some of the world’s great brands could combine to produce unexpected solutions.

So, we now have several strong brands collaborating with PIE, including Nike, Target and Coca-Cola, as we embark on our first brand-focused experiment in 2011. We’re aiming to help brands find unexpected solutions, accelerate new businesses and keep innovation at the forefront of what we do.

Is Wieden + Kennedy creating a venture fund? Who is going to be providing the finance?

We are not creating a venture fund. But we do have relationships with some of the VCs in the area. Our hope is that the start-ups will graduate from PIE in a position that enables them to take whatever the right next step for them is – including attract funding.

It’s interesting that you are working with partners like Coca-Cola and Target. Agencies have been ‘kicking the tires’ of the IP model for a few years now – what learnings did you take to make a decision on partnership?

This is not an IP play. The companies that participate in PIE retain their IP. We’re interested in finding new ways of collaborative working that helps us redefine brand experiences. We love the idea of throwing start-ups and global brands together to see what we can learn from each other, and what we can make. We wanted partners who were brave enough to embrace an experimental and iterative approach to developing solutions.

What sort of start-ups are you looking for?

The program is currently looking for up to 10 “brand-collaborative” startups in the mobile space to participate in the fall session. The participants need to have an existing prototype, the ability to launch their service in three to nine months, and a business model that can quickly scale.

We look for folks ready to hit the ground running. PIE was meant to address a basic question: with all the off-the-shelf technology solutions out there, how fast could we launch a successful business? Some of our early residents — e.g., Urban Airship, PHP Fog, and Bac’n — had founders who were launching products and finding success incredibly quickly. We’re looking for companies with similar potential.

The startups that apply don’t have to be marketing oriented. We’re looking for interesting and compelling ideas, strong entrepreneurs, and amazing teams, regardless of their particular focus, because the range of brand challenges we plan to tackle don’t always fall neatly into “marketing” buckets. And that’s a good thing.

And what’s the deal? W+K offers what — and what does W+K get in return?

PIE gives each startup working space at the W+K facility, up to $18,000 and access to key investors and developers.

Target and Coca-Cola will provide at least 5 mentors to participate in the program to share knowledge and explore potential brand-alignments and business opportunities. Nike helped us test some of the PIE concepts earlier this year and are part of an ongoing exploration with their Sustainability and Business Innovation (SBI) unit, which will provide a smaller group of mentors.

These brand mentors will join the existing PIE mentor network of experts and alumni to help participating startups grow and succeed. We’re excited that PIE alumni Urban Airship, PHP Fog, Ward Cunningham and Alex Payne will be mentoring those startups based on their experiences.

And what does W+K get out of this spiritually, creatively etc?

We believe we can learn from the iterative spirit, creative problem-solving and tech smarts of entrepreneurs. We hope that PIE will explore different models of creative development and lead to unexpected brand solutions. We love the idea of partnering with brands to work together on common problems and opportunities.

In the end, we’re not sure where it will take us. And that plunge into the unknown is part of the fun.

Sounds like a very interesting direction. Good luck — how do the kids apply?

Online applications for PIE 2011 are available right now at piepdx.com and run through August 1. Check it out.

Thanks Nick!


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