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AOL Launches Area51, A Startup Incubator for Its Employees and Fresh College Graduates

With the competition in the internet world getting tougher by the day, it comes as no surprise that older players are trying their best to remain popular and relevant. One such company which seems to have taken a cue from the recent Yahoo downfall, is AOL, which is originally credited for getting America online.

The internet veteran has recently announced about the launch of its startup incubator, Area51.

Like any other startup incubator, Area51 will be taking in a few chosen startups, and provide them with guidance, give them capital with the hope that one day they will grow into big, successful businesses. According to experts, ideally, some of these incubated startups will be providing AOL with a return on its investment, or maybe even end up becoming a part of AOL as partners or acquisitions.

In addition to the incubator, AOL is also trying to bring innovation back to the centre of the organisation. The company had recently entered into a collaboration with Cornell University on a technology lab in the NYC.

To begin with, Area 51 will be working with a couple of companies in the next few months and gradually expand to 10 over the end of next year. The six months long program is open to all the current AOL employees and fresh college graduates.

In order to efficiently run the incubation program, AOL has enlisted the help of venture capital funds: Dawn Patrol Ventures, BBG Ventures and Nautilus. Not only with investors from these venture capital funds be mentoring the selected startups, but they would also be handling the vetting process.

While experts predict that AOL might consider all types of companies, though there is a possibility of them being related to AOL's own competencies— consumer Internet services, media and advertising, so that startups can easily fit into and take advantage of the company's rich corporate resources. The program is being considered as a move by AOL to retain employees with entrepreneurial streak.

In the past, AOL has made some serious efforts in emulating the free-thinking and agile style of the startup industry. For example, AOL's Alpha, the company's experimental arm that builds various projects such as photo editing app Vivv, Starlike, an app for tracking friends on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and messaging app Pip.

According to AOL chief technology officer Bill Pence's statement to Fortune, experimental labs and sandboxes that most large companies are creating internally has become quite a trend. Social networking giant Facebook ran its Creative Labs unit for years until recently, and of course one has to mention Alphabet’s X division, which has been serving as a large research and development arm for quite sometime now. But, a sandbox might not always be enough to retain entrepreneurs at a big company, and Yahoo ended up learning this lesson the hard way. Despite of spending the billions of dollars in buying startup entrepreneurs, many of them ended up leaving the company eventually.

In addition to being a ploy to keep talented employees, Area51 will also be serving as a breeding ground for the potential acquisitions or business partners of AOL, which was itself acquired by Verizon last year for a whopping $4.4 billion.

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