The Happiest (Work) Place on Earth: How Disney and Techstars are Helping Entrepreneurs' Dreams Come True

The Happiest (Work) Place on Earth: How Disney and Techstars are Helping Entrepreneurs' Dreams Come True

Disneyland Castle

Image credit: Pixabay
This story appears in the July 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It isn’t just the 5-and-younger set who have Disney in their dreams. In 2014, Boulder, Colo.-based startup accelerator Techstars partnered with The Walt Disney Company to create the first Disney Accelerator. The second year of the 13-week Los Angeles-based incubator kicks off this month. 

For aspiring entrepreneurs with visions of media and entertainment success, the program offers a modern-day fairy tale: $120,000 per team, mentorship and a demo day in October with potential investors, all so founders can create companies centered on products and services as diverse as connected toys, mobile games and virtual reality systems. Program participants have included Codarica, which teaches kids to write code, and content marketer Sidelines. 

Techstars managing director Cody Simms shed some light on what might be the happiest accelerator on Earth.

What was the impetus for the Techstars/Disney combination?

Disney approached Techstars about partnering for Disney Accelerator because they believed we had the right experience in creating industry-leading accelerators. It was clear after talking through Disney’s vision that together we could create a powerful program that helps entrepreneurs meaningfully advance their businesses.

Why does this sector need a dedicated accelerator?

This is an incredibly exciting time across the board in the media and entertainment world. Technology continues to play a more central role in how media is created, consumed and distributed. From social networks providing altogether new distribution platforms to the ubiquity of mobile devices, content is increasingly becoming more direct-to-consumer. 

Outside of content, there are major sea changes underway: virtual reality, connected toys and wearables, to name a few. It all represents a huge opportunity for the media and entertainment ecosystem: for consumers who want content on demand, for entrepreneurs looking to pioneer new business models and products and for the storytellers who have new creative avenues at their disposal.

What will help a candidate stand out when applying?

First and foremost, we are looking for great founding teams with strong ideas and a clear ability to execute.  Then we’re looking for companies with truly transformative ideas that can have an impact on the media and entertainment industries.

What resources are available to teams that are accepted?

Companies invited to participate in Disney Accelerator gain access to hands-on mentorship from top Disney executives including CEO Bob Iger and his staff, seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and other executives from the entertainment and technology communities.

In addition, all participants benefit from becoming part of the growing global Techstars network of more than 5,000 mentors, investors, alumni and corporate partners. The accelerator provides a dedicated Disney Accelerator working space, and each company is offered $120,000 in investment capital to help further their business.

Besides use of the Disney name, what can participants expect from an accelerator inside a for-profit company?

Participating companies receive access to resources and relationships from across The Walt Disney Company, such as The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ESPN, ABC, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Consumer Products, Maker Studios and Disney Interactive. 

How has Disney continued to support alumni from the inaugural class?

Tyffon, maker of the hugely successful ZombieBooth app series and a participant in Disney Accelerator, worked with Disney Parks and Resorts to create and launch the Show Your Disney Side photo app that allows fans to magically transform into their favorite Disney Parks characters. The product was really born out of the mentorship and connections that Disney Accelerator provided and is an innovative, shareable and unique way to bring some of the park experience to mobile phones.

Edition: November 2016

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