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Fast Chat: PepsiCo's Josh Karpf

Digital lead riffs on tech startups in Brazil

Josh Karpf

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Earlier this fall, PepsiCo unveiled a 12-week tech startups incubator program in red-hot Brazil, building on similar efforts by the beverage/snacks giant in Europe last year and the U.S. in 2010. In the coming months, PepsiCo will select up to 10 entrepreneurial companies that will team up with brands like Pepsi, Gatorade and Doritos for marketing-minded innovations.

"It's not just about selecting the next cool app," said Josh Karpf, PepsiCo’s digital lead. “It really starts with business objectives and finding partners that can help us."

His company has hailed TvTak and Tongal as startup successes from its PepsiCo10 programs of the last couple of years. Karpf recently chatted with Adweek about what the soda maker hopes to achieve with PepsiCo10 Brazil, which will be anchored in Sao Paulo.

Adweek: Brazil is hot. Is that essentially why you are launching the program?
Josh Karpf: It's a hugely important market for a snacks and beverages player. From a digital perspective, Brazil is an interesting market. They are seeing a lot of growth in Internet usage. And in Latin America, it's probably the most connected market. This program will be owned and operated by our local team. It will carry out the character of the local market.

How will the winning projects/companies get selected?
There are five verticals within digital that we are looking at to work with entrepreneurs—gaming, social, mobile, retail and sustainability. We take the initial submissions and then we invite up to 20 for in-person presentations. And then we will select up to 10. The program for us is about digital innovation and trying to find companies that we wouldn't typically see for a few years. It could be a big competitive advantage.

TvTak is like the social TV app Shazam, which Pepsi has partnered with in the past. Is part of the point of these incubator programs to develop products in-house so you no longer have to partner with the Shazams?
It's really about relationships. For the period of the pilot, there's an exclusivity agreement. So we have a competitive advantage. It's not really about acquisitions or buying the companies. It's about having a portfolio of partners that we can work with. Part of it is seeing around the corner. Even if two or three of them pivot or don't work out, we'll have the learnings earlier than we would have.

How will the winning startups in Brazil fit into PepsiCo's plans once they are selected?
Each winner will be aligned with a PepsiCo brand in the market. Our team will work directly with the company to execute a pilot based on a business need. It's not just about selecting the next cool app. It really starts with business objectives and finding partners that can help us.