Starcom is the first media agency in China to be formally associated with Chinaccelerator, run by managing director William Bao Bean. The agency does not have priority or exclusivity should other media agencies be interested in similar partnerships in the future, however.
The partnership will allow SMG China direct access to selected startups for alignment with the business needs of its clients.
Vivian Zhu, head of digital, data and analytics at SMG China, said that this is a win-win-situation in "the age of technology-enabled intimacy" since the agency will help its clients evaluate, cultivate and grow with the startups.
Bi-annually, Chinaccelerator recruits the top 10 tech-based startup companies from around the world and brings them to Shanghai for an intense three-month program designed to help them refine their product fits, acquire customers, derive revenue streams and improve their pitches.
The latest batch of startups that 'graduated' from Chinaccelerator's sixth round include Olifun, which makes a location-based app that lists personalised recommendations of happy-hour specials at nearby watering holes in Shanghai.
Zhu, the lead for this partnership, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that she found Olifun to be interesting and hypothetically a very natural fit for AB-Inbev should the SMG client decide to involve the startup in actual campaigns.
"The platform is promising, even though its technology needs work, so we may need the brand to be a bit more patient," Zhu said. "We care about how soon we can implement or execute the idea or prototype. At the end of the day, we are not asking clients to fund these startups, but to leverage the potential scalability and newness of their platforms for marketing."
Startups can get good mentorship, and perhaps auxiliary investment, from Starcom and its clients, while the agency can boast about bringing innovative utility to the industry that will translate to higher loyalty from clients.
Additionally, Starcom and Chinaccelerator will collaborate to organise initiatives such as SMG Demo Day (where new startups will be showcased to SMG clients) and SMG Hackathon (an initiative that sees SMG clients mentoring startups to solve business challenges).
In the past, Chinaccelerator has worked directly with marketers on a sporadic basis, but it has been "painful" to do so, according to Zhu, because "startups speak a different language from brands", so having a media agency straddle in between the two parties for brand-focused communications is deemed beneficial.
See also: Why Unilever Foundry aims for closer relationships with startups