Domino's Pizza is joining other big brands such as Nike, Lexus and PepsiCo in trying to get next to entrepreneurs. Its new "Pizzavestment" promotion taps crowdsourcing of innovative ideas and awards $500 pizza gift cards to about 30 startup companies around the country.
In the case of Domino's, CEO J. Patrick Doyle believes associating with entrepreneurs enjoys special legitimacy. Founder Tom Monaghan famously parlayed a small loan -- for $500, actually -- into Domino's first pizza-delivery vehicle. And independent business people, franchisees, own more than 90 percent of Domino's outlets, with the vast majority of them working their way up to ownership through one of the stores.
"So we're very connected to that idea" of building an enterprise, Doyle told me. In part the promotion "is a little bit of paying it forward."
Another aspect of the promotion is called "Powered By Pizza," which expands the brand's industry-leading mastery of digital marketing and operations while also identifying it with business-building ambitions. After all, how many great ideas and successful companies were hatched over late-night pizza?
Domino's said in a release that it "wants to inspire groups -- often brainstorming over pizza -- with the proper food for thought." So America's No. 2 pizza brand is going to offer gift cards to individuals on the fund-raising site Indiegogo.com who pledge support toward select projects reflecting great and innovative ideas.
And for the "Pizzavestments" awards, Doyle himself will sign a letter and certificate accompanying the prizes. "The reason this campaign works is that people already fundamentally get that it's true: Innovators and creative people and students and everyone around the world use pizza to kind of fuel their late-night productive sessions," he said. "We're going to give pizza away to people who are generating those new ideas and funding those new ideas."
In strengthening its link to entrepreneurism, Domino's also is joining a growing roster of big brands that, in one way or another, are attempting to encourage and reward startups, some in areas directly related to their businesses where new ideas could benefit the brand, and others not.
For example, Lexus last year ran a contest called Lexus Ignition in which a Facebook app solicited votes on eight technology startups, whose four winners split up to $100,000 in funding from Lexus US, Brandchannel.com said.
PepsiCo has been running its PepsiCo10 program, which aims to discover, nurture and harness technology, media and communications entrepreneurs in the United States, Brazil, India and other crucial markets in new initiatives that lead to effective digital- and social-marketing efforts for the company.'
Nike has sponsored the LAUNCH Systems Innovation Challenge, which is an open-call competition for innovative ideas and processes to transform the way fabrics are made. The challenge will result in 10 product innovations which will be matched up with a team of investors and marketers to aid in the manufacturing process, according to Brandchannel.com.
One apparent reason the number of such programs is growing is that, in a relatively stagnant economy, entrepreneurship is becoming a more important potential path to individual prosperity. "People want to be a part of [building an enterprise], having more control over their lives, starting new businesses and generating new ideas," Doyle observed.
At the same time, "Powered by Pizza" -- with a significant social-media aspect as well as a TV ad -- plays to Domino's strong and growing interest in dominating the industry in the digital sphere. Already among other things, this has led the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based chain to emphasize online ordering and to experiment with placing cameras in one of its outlets so that customers can follow the progress online of the exact pizza they ordered.
Doyle liked the promotion idea right away, noting that the Domino's marketing team and its longtime agency, CP&B, probably came up with the campaign idea "over a pizza."
More on Forbes: