Mondelez (Formerly Kraft) Widens Intake Valve for Mobile Startups

Snack giant Mondelez (Nabisco, Cadbury, Trident) began trading as a standalone company this week after splitting from Kraft Foods (Oscar Mayer, Maxwell House). CEO Irene Rosenfeld said specialization will let the company focus on expansion, especially in developing markets, per Reuters.

That means nailing mobile, since many people in developing economies are skipping PC ownership entirely in favor of mobile devices (though “semi-smart” and “dumb” phones still prevail over smart ones in many regions). To be ready for the mobile future, Mondelez has embarked on a project to pair its brands with mobile startups under a program called Mobile Futures.

The idea is to internalize mobile innovation while rapidly shepherding a small group of entrepreneurs into prototyping and seed round funding, says Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation and emerging technology for Mondalez. But what’s in it for Mondelez?

“We’re going to innovate together big brand challenges where there is not a technology in the market that provides a solution,” he tells AdExchanger.

On October 10, the company kicks off an open call for mobile startups in three areas: mobile-at-retail, social TV, and SoLoMo (social-local-mobile). During the first phase it will pair its brands with hand chosen mobile partners, with the goal of launching a pilot program in 90 days.

In the second phase, Mondelez will host weeklong sessions between a handful of its chosen entrepreneurs and an incubator company. At the end of another 90 days of incubation it will help them create a business plan, launch a working prototype, and put a management team in place. To facilitate activation and investments it has partnered with Viacom, ATT AdWorks, the Boston Consulting Group as well as VCs, angel investors and incubators.

Kaczmarek said data-driven advertising is not front burner with the Mobile Futures project, but  it could factor in. “The goal isn’t initially to spend media dollars on anything,” he said. “But we do want to leverage their properties as we begin the pilot work, and as we bring more new ventures to light.”

So what is it about?

“We’re looking at them from a consumer engagement and influencing the path to purchase perspective,” he said. “We don’t expect that it would be an advertising type of buy. I’m not sure how leveraging a startup within the media and marketing plan, how that figures into data-driven media planning. This is very uncharted territory.”

Asked whether Mondelez will take an equity position in any of the companies, Kaczmarek left the door open but acknowledged the company doesn’t have an internal function to manage such investments today.

Regarding the involvement of agencies, Mondelez brands are free to involve their preferred agencies in the program, although it’s clear for now that the company intends the learnings for its own marketing organization. It will however involve its media agencies – MediaVest and Horizon – to facilitate media placements that might spin out of the program.

“As each brand develops their pilot program with their respective startup, each of them will tap into their agency. Each of the brands will decide how their agency is integrated into that process,” he said.

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