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Disney Launches a New Class of Startups at In-House Accelerator

The Walt Disney Company held a graduation ceremony for its in-house accelerator program on Thursday, giving nine companies the chance to pitch their plans to change the entertainment industry.

Now in its third year, the Disney Accelerator gives start-up companies access to Disney executives as they fine-tune their products. The companies are selected from a much larger group of applicants. Disney invests in the companies and gives them office space in Glendale for three to six months. Typically the companies emerge with a deal to serve some branch of the Disney empire.

“It’s a personal relationship that really matters,” said Michael Abrams, Disney’s senior vice president for innovation. “It’s about bringing everyone together.”

Among the companies featured at Thursday’s “Demo Day” was Atom Tickets, a social ticketing app that allows friends to plan movie outings together.

Matthew Bakal, the company’s chairman, said the company had arranged a deal to sell Disney merchandise alongside tickets through the app. Moviegoers would get targeted ads for merchandise as they leave the theater.

“We call it the virtual exit-through-the-gift-shop,” Bakal said, noting the deal will launch with the release of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Other companies include Ader, which handles advertising and sponsorships for e-sports; Pley, a subscription toy service that uses an algorithm to select appropriate toys for children; and Hanson Robotics, which makes humanoid robots.

“I’ve been pursuing the dream of humanlike robots for more than 20 years,” said David Hanson, the company’s CEO.

Disney CEO Robert Iger gave a brief introduction to the program, touting it as a way to bring fresh ideas into the company.

“Obviously there’s great mutual benefit for all of us,” he said. “We feel a commitment to bringing in new people and new ideas and we get energized by them.”

In the previous two years of the accelerator, Disney focused on launching pure startups. This year’s class featured several more mature companies that have already gained significant traction and received multiple investment rounds.

“Now it’s how do you go from selling millions to selling many millions,” Abrams said.

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