PayPal’s Boston office welcomed a new class of 14 early-stage startups to its Start Tank incubator program last month. These startups, the third group to be working alongside eBay Inc. employees, had more synergies than ever with our company’s business and vision.
While the startups get free working space and mentorship, eBay Inc. also benefits from the startups’ fresh ideas and insights.
“With the Start Tank teams working alongside us, we get a broader perspective,” said David Chang, chief operating officer, PayPal Media Network, who runs Start Tank along with Karen Landry. “Their presence enables us to see things happening in areas on the radar that are one or two steps ahead of where we are today.”
CO Everywhere, a recent Start Tank graduate, makes a mobile app that pulls in real-time, local data from social streams such as Instagram, Twitter, FourSquare and Facebook so that users can view the buzz on what’s going on around them. Although the company has a different mission than eBay Inc., it is developing assets that have synergies with eBay Inc.’s vision.
As the program has evolved, it increasingly attracts startups in the fields of commerce and payments, amplifying the benefits for eBay Inc. In the second Start Tank class, 25 percent of the companies were involved in those sectors; in the current class, 75 percent of them are.
In the Start Tank program, each startup is paired with a PayPal volunteer, known as a “pal,” with whom they meet regularly. Other employees also volunteer to provide startups with expertise on subjects such as customer acquisition and Android development. The program also includes casual lunch & learn sessions on basics such as public relations, fundraising, and intellectual property law.
The co-working setup also helps energize the PayPal teams working alongside the startups, Chang said. Many of the PayPal volunteers come from startups themselves.
“Helping early stage entrepreneurs gain traction with their businesses is something that the team is super passionate about,” Chang said.
Start Tank is one of several incubator programs that exist across eBay Inc., including Friends of eBay in New York and the new PayPal incubator in Chennai, India. In a short time, it has made a positive impact on the innovation ecosystem – other leading technology companies have toured the space and inquired about how they can create similar programs.
As Chang notes, these programs improve eBay Inc.’s brand, burnishing its reputation as an innovative company in the eyes of the developer community. This gives recruitment a boost, and aids retention.
As one employee involved in Start Tank said, “This is one of the core reasons why I come to the office every single day.”
Photo: Start Tank companies participate in a “PR 101″ session.