How Brands Are Going On The Offense — At SXSW And All Year Round

March 24th, 2015

Historically, brands have often approached startups as if in a petting zoo — lots of looking and talking, but rarely making deals.

Marketers have now gone on the offense, executing commercial deals with emerging technology partners by investing real budgets and resources to drive their businesses forward. This was clear at this year’s SXSW Interactive, featuring over 80 pitch events, and that doesn’t include the private and off-site competitions.

Here are just a few KITE-powered examples of brands hitting it out of the park at SXSW:

1. Visa hosted a startup pitch competition to find a partner that will help it reach and engage millennials. KITE awarded a $30K paid pilot to Reelio, a YouTube influencer marketer platform.

But that’s not all. Two other brands that watched the Visa pitches have told us they want to work with Reelio and possibly some of the other startups they saw. That’s the effect we’re seeking to create more broadly.

This was just the beginning for the company, as they launch the Visa Everywhere Initiative. Three startups can receive up to $150,000 total in paid pilot programs (maximum of $50,000 each), upon KITE and the participating startups reaching a pilot agreement. The application deadline is April 30, 2015.

2. McDonald’s made its first-ever appearance at SXSW this year, in part to connect directly with startups. The global fast-food company attracted hundreds to its pitch competition in the Startup Village.

McDonald’s focused on three areas: content, the restaurant experience, and delivery/transportation. The grand prize winner, sponsorship discovery and buying platform HelloSponsor, received a trip to the fast-food giant’s headquarters in Illinois to meet with their executives.

3. KITE selected six founders to pitch CMOs and other top marketers at a private event hosted by The CMO Club, which has nearly 1,000 members.

NewAer CEO Dave Mathews and Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon

NewAer CEO Dave Mathews and Belkin CMO Kieran Hannon after The CMO Club pitch event at SXSW.

Judges from Mondelez, Belkin, Dell, L’Oreal and Amazon selected NewAer, proximity software that makes applications smart by automating actions based on who or what is nearby, as the winner. On a second pitch day, a separate set of judges saw six different startups and selected SwagTag, a Twitter content and promoted trend service. The prize for both startups:

– Highlighted in The CMO Club’s monthly newsletter and social media channels
– Interviewed at SXSW for The CMO Club TV
– Opportunity to attend The CMO Club dinner in Q2 2015 to share the company with attending CMOs

NewAer CEO and serial founder Dave Mathews is disrupting location-based messaging, data and applications. The CMOs, who represented a broad range of industries for consumers and enterprise, selected NewAer, ultimately demonstrating how consumer tech and all areas of the mobile/internet stack is disrupting every area of business today.

4. As part of our official SXSW programming, KITE hosted a startup pitch competition with judges from L’Oreal, Unilever and Q (a new innovation consultancy). Ultimately,, a mobile platform for turnkey battles between photos spanning a range of categories, impressed the judges because of its engaging platform and the variety of use cases it offers.

Unilever Foundry’s Jeremy Basset, who judged our SXSW competition, has already followed up with each founder and introduced them to different parts of the organization to help secure potential pilots. Because of the Foundry, which has institutionalized Unilever’s innovation process, Unilever is far ahead of other marketers in preparing for the future.

SXSW is not the only place where great outcomes happen. Here are just a few successful programs, plus a few in progress, to inspire you:

If your brand or agency wants to get serious about innovation through partnerships with startups, KITE’s here to help. Just ping us at

Or, if you’re a startup that’s ready to work with brands, we’d like to help drive revenue your way. Just claim your free KITE profile at