On Heels of Foursquare Deal, Pepsi Looks to Partner with 10 More Startups

Pepsi, the food and beverage giant, is ramping up the ways it connects technologically with its customers.

Toward that end, the company just launched a new contest aimed at involving 10 startups in yearlong pilot programs, each with one of Pepsi’s dozens of brands, including Frito-Lay, Mountain Dew, and Tropicana.

Organized in conjunction with Highland Capital Partners and Mashable, Pepsi is also offering winners access to its public relations and branding partners, including Weber Shandwick and OMD.

“The idea is to identify young entrepreneurs with promising technologies but who don’t have a clear business plan to work with marketers,” says Seth Kaufman, PepsiCo’s director of media strategy and investment. Pepsi is hoping such relationships will help itself better connect with consumers — “which is very important for us to figure out,” says Kaufman — while serving as a marquee client off which the startups can capitalize down the road.

Those startups that apply must fall into one of four buckets: social media and marketing, mobile marketing, place-based and retail experiential marketing, or digital video and gaming.

What contest winners are not guaranteed is funding, though certainly, Highland — which was brought in to help vet the deals and to advise very early stage companies on their financing options — is looking at its Pepsi partnership as yet another avenue to deal flow.

Says Highland senior VP Michael Gaiss, “For us, the opportunity to get involved is an opportunity to see interesting entrepreneurs earlier” than Highland might otherwise. “Over time, if there’s an interesting team or company that’s worth backing and that’s interested in us, that may run its course.”

Technically speaking, some of Highland’s existing portfolio companies could even enter the contest — along with any other venture-backed company that is two years old or younger, has raised no more than $10 million, and generates at least $250,000 in revenue.

Indeed, though “part of the spirit of this is to identify the next-generation of innovators,” says Gaiss, Pepsi has already demonstrated a penchant for traction.

To wit, in April, Pepsi announced a mobile application partnership with the location-based social network Foursquare. Through the startup, Pepsi now signals to the app’s users when they’re near a store or fast-food chain that sells Pepsi, then shoots them coupons  to get them into those stores.

Pepsi also recently developed an iPhone app that rewards its customers with points if they stop in to pick up a drink. (The points can be redeemed for free music downloads.)

In fact, if the contest — and subequent pilot programs — go well, participating startups may eventually  “become part of [our] base media investment,” says Kaufman.

To apply for Pepsi’s new contest, called PepsiCo10, click here. The submission deadline is June 24.