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Inside the PayPal Start Tank incubator

When online payment processor PayPal was acquired by eBay and moved its Boston offices from the city's North End to the Financial District back in July 2012, it had more space than it could fill.

"We went from a place that held about 100 people to 300 people," said David Chang, chief operating officer at PayPal Media Network.

Rather than let the space go unused or wait to fill it with new hires, Chang said, the company decided to support the Boston startup culture by forming an incubator for getting new businesses off the ground. 

Start Tank, as it's called, provides six months of office space, mentorship by PayPal employees and access to all the perks the state-of-the-art PayPal office provides. (Think coffee bar, foosball and showers in the bathroom.) PayPal also sponsors events like last spring's Brand-a-thon, aimed at providing startups with the kind of marketing and branding expertise that only larger companies usually have access to. All free of charge, by the way.

Earlier this summer, SearchCIO got an inside look at Start Tank. In this Startup Spotlight video, Features Writer and videographer Kristen Lee talks with Chang about how the incubator program has evolved since its start in 2013. For starters, it's much more competitive -- only about 20% of applicants were accepted into Start Tank's current class, its third, Chang said.

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One of those fortunate startups is Project 2020, which uses a truck to bring eye doctors to the workplace and provide eye exams.

"I would say they've been super, super important. David and his team sort of go above and beyond to help if we ask," said Alexa Baggio, who is a graduate of Brown University, and worked as an investment banking analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for two years, among other jobs, before founding 2020. She is also founder of Brown University Women in Business.

Baggio's fledgling business was also a big beneficiary of the Brand-a-thon, winning third place at the event. "We got like a quarter-of-a-million-dollar ad campaign given to us basically for free, which is a game changer for us. The group at [ad agency] Forge WorldWide had 72 hours to come up with an ad campaign for us and they crushed it," she said. The third-place finish also came with a cash prize of $500.

The rewards from Start Tank, as it turns out, cut both ways, Chang said. Startups, it seems, have a lot to teach big companies.

"I characterize the benefits from a company standpoint, I guess, in three ways. So, one, it's just generally good for the ecosystem. We like encouraging people to think of PayPal as an innovative place. Locally I think we've done a really good job of that," he said. The program also elicits a "higher level of employee engagement and retention" among the company ranks. And third?

"The big benefit from a company perspective is that, especially with startups that are in our space … we learn from them and they learn from us; and so, if anything, it gives us a little bit of an early insight into areas of the market."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34 .

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How do you think your company could benefit from sponsoring startups the way Start Tank does?
I guess, Start Tank also supported by making their IT infrastructure available, not just rental space. And that's a whole another level of expenses.