Disney Accelerator ups the ante with 9 startups

Nearly doubling in size, Disney's 2016 Accelerator program includes a crop of later-stage startups like electronic block maker littleBits (pictured) and VR firm Jaunt.
July 12, 2016

Electronic building blocks, holographic content and cinematic VR are among the concepts driving Disney’s third-annual Accelerator program, which provides mentorship and product development tools to entrepreneurs over a three-month period. This year’s edition of Accelerator, which has nearly doubled in size, includes a crop of later-stage startups—some of which have raised as much as US$100 million—as the program will be run fully in-house for the first time.

Since its launch in 2014, Disney Accelerator has incubated projects hailing from the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with products ranging in tech from robotics to e-commerce, and from artificial intelligence to wearables. And this year is no different. The companies selected for the 2016 Disney Accelerator include:

littleBits, a platform of electronic building blocks that empower kids to invent things like remote-controlled cars. littleBits was founded by Ayah Bdeir, co-founder of the Open Hardware Summit and a graduate of the MIT Media Lab. The company has raised more than US$60 million in funding to date.

Ader, a marketplace that connects brands with eSports and gaming influencers. Currently, the company’s network of influencers reaches more than 50 million monthly viewers.

Atom Tickets, a new mobile movie-ticketing app where customers can buy movie tickets, pre-order concessions, invite friends without having to pay for them, discover new movies, browse trailers and read reviews.

Hanson Robotics, which creates human-like robots with a full range of facial expressions. The Hong Kong-based company is building robots for the business and consumer markets, and videos of its Sophia bot have been viewed more than a billion times.

Jaunt, which creates and publishes immersive cinematic virtual reality and develops hardware, software, tools and apps that put VR into the hands of  content creators. Jaunt has raised more than US$100 million to date, with prior investments already secured from Disney. It also recently launched Jaunt China, a VR joint venture with China Media Capital and Shanghai Media Group.

Pley, a toy subscription company that lets members receive items from a catalog of more than 500 playthings. Kids can keep or return each toy whenever they wish. Pley has raised more than US$16 million in funding.

Nom, an online live-streaming video community for chefs and food lovers. Nom was founded by Vijay Karunamurthy, former YouTube engineering lead, and Steve Chen, who is co-founder and CTO of YouTube.

OTOY, a holographic content platform that brings the power of light field rendering and network streaming to virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. OTOY’s investors include Autodesk and its advisers include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet (formerly Google), and Ariel Emanuel, Co-CEO of WME|IMG.

Playbuzz, a content-creation and audience-engagement platform that encourages publishers, marketers, bloggers and brands to create content using mobile-friendly formats that are optimized for social sharing. With headquarters in New York and Tel Aviv, Playbuzz has already raised US$31 million.

Past Accelerator participants include Sphero, the maker of the BB-8 droid toy that went on to become the number-one Star Wars toy in 2015. Meanwhile, Statmuse, an interactive sports stats platform powered by natural language search, is currently providing ESPN with statistical content, and Israel-based imperson recently launched The Muppets’ Miss Piggy and Disney’s Zootopia chat experiences on Facebook using its AI technology.

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