Advertising Week 2015

Startups: R/GA Says If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Agency Presents the Results of Its Accelerator Program

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R/GA has been at the center of a whole host of new innovations that go far beyond what would be considered the typical stomping ground of an advertising agency. There's the tablet game that helps ashmatic children be less dependent of medication, the connected kitchen shelf that helps grow vegetables, a navigation device for bikers and a sock for monitoring babies' vital signs.

"It's pretty hard to be an agency right now," said Nick Law, R/GA's global chief creative officer. "The disruption caused by startups is affecting our clients, and they are going after our talent."

Nick Law
Nick Law

But instead of considering startups the enemy, R/GA decided to bring innovation closer to home with an accelerator program, established in partnership with Techstars. In the session "Start-Up: How Agencies Can Build Companies For The Connected Age" the agency showcased the results of that program.

The R/GA Accelerator houses the startups for three months, offering mentorship, creative services and networking opportunities, along with $120,000 in investment in exchange for a 5% equity stake. The program is open to businesses that are exploring connected devices and Internet of Things.

Since 2014, 20 companies have passed through the accelerator, and most of them do not belong to the media and advertising industry. Alvio, for example, is breathing trainer for asthmatic patients, and Grove is a hydroponic garden created by two MIT students.

In most cases, R/GA provided help with branding, prototyping, user experience or design. For Stephen Plumlee, global chief operating officer, financial capital is a commodity that venture firms can provide, but the creative capital that an agency offers has a lot of value for a startup as well. "Our startups have won 14 Lions at Cannes, developed relationships with investors, raised more than double the money the average startup raises," Mr. Plumlee said. One of those startups, Keen Home, was invited to "Shark Tank" and attracted the fourth largest offer in the show's history.

The program has also begun to launch spinoffs. The first class of the L.A. Dodgers Accelerators began in the R/GA Los Angeles office in April and is focused on sports, technology and entertainment. And in October, the inaugural class of the Metro Accelerator, in partnership with German retailer Metro, will start in Berlin. By the end of 2016, R/GA hopes to have as many as 80 companies in its startup portfolio.

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