Interview with Michael Abrams, the Disney Accelerator

Earlier this week, the Disney Accelerator held the demo day for its second class. The Disney Accelerator takes ten, startup companies, and pairs them with mentors from The Walt Disney Company and elsewhere, to provide technical assistance, guidance, business advice, and other resources--and also helps those company link up with internal Disney resources that might help those companies succeed. We caught up with Michael Abrams, Senior Vice President, Innovation at The Walt Disney Company, to talk more about this year's class of companies and the program.

What was the most interesting thing about this year's accelerator class for you?

Michael Abrams: If you compare with last year, last year was companies more purely focused on kids, families, and apps. This year, we looked at companies that are really technology driven, who are more on the cutting edge of technology and how it might apply to media in the long run, in the far future.

It's clear what the startups get out of being part of the Disney Accelerator, but what does Disney get out of all of this?

Michael Abrams: (laughs) Well, if you think about the Walt Disney Company, and certainly, well before my time, Walt began innovating. The intersection of technology and content is what creates media and entertainment. So we've always been on the forefront of the innovation in technology, which drives media and entertainment, and for us, if you look at what is going on, there is a lot of investment being made in the entrepreneurial community and startups. That's a wonderful place for innovation to occur—not just within our walls, but outside our walls.

The accelerator is a way to connect our company with really young, really early startups, and inject creativity into them, and hope that we can be on the ground floor as they build the future.

Walt Disney is a big company—has innovation been an issue for you?

Michael Abrams: The Walt Disney Company, maybe uniquely, is a very innovative company. It's part of our DNA, it's part of what we do. If you look at the companies that make up our businesses, they are all on the cutting edge of what they do. With the accelerator, we are looking at even further innovating in the future, with things that are just developing.

What's the biggest thing you have learned, working with all of these new companies?

Michael Abrams: At the Walt Disney Company, I think the most important thing we found, is the importance of spending time with those companies, which is hard to do. That's particularly tough to do, when you're busy running your business. But, the most important thing is our senior executive time. Bob Iger and exes from all around the company spend one-on-one time with these companies, learn about these companies, learn from them, change them, and together, sometimes we can create something cool.

Sphero was a huge hit for you from the last class, did you expect that at all?

Michael Abrams: We expect everyone to be great. But obviously, we hope for the magic, which doesn't happen all the time.

Why did the magic happen there?

Michael Abrams: They are an amazing company, and had an amazing mentor in Bob Iger, and it was an amazing opportunity and moment in time. Obviously, the audience wants droids!

So, last question, are you going to keep running the accelerator?

Michael Abrams: Good question. At this moment, we're 100 percent focused on this class. Ask me about that later!