The Elusive Prize: Collaboration between Startups & F500 companies

Start it @kbc

Monday 26 March 2018

The Elusive Prize: Collaboration between Startups & F500 companies

In today’s business environment, startups are perceived to know where all the innovation is happening, but Fortune 500 companies, or all corporates for that matter, have so many more resources. This seems like it could be a perfect match, to pair hustle with money and scale. But the cultures of these two kinds of organizations are just so different. Often corporates even have several different departemental cultures running at once. Breaking down the barriers between them to help collaboration thrive, can be a special kind of business challenge all to itself. Luckily, at SXSW, we had four excellent speakers (Hili Banjo - Accenture, Evan Burfield - Union, Kirk Coburn - Shell and Sam Marshall - MobilityX) to walk us through their own experiences in the challenge of finding three common goals for startups and corporates to work on.

Focus on specifics

Large corporations have multiple lines of business operating at the same time. This  means that there are lots of existing projects and inefficiencies that they need to advance and improve. Executive committees at these firms generally have a good grasp of where these problems are located and what they’d like solved, but lack the flexibility and inventiveness to solve them at speed. At Shell, Kirk Coburn talked about how they were able to direct small startups to these specific problems within that larger organization and take advantage of what each one could offer the other. This kind of problem solving is where need and opportunity can complement each other to overcome the cultural differences.


Find your “Startup Ambassador”

Fortune 500 companies are big sprawling behemoths, with dozens of departments, often each with their own idiosyncratic ways of doing things and corporate culture. Not everyone at every corporate department has the ability, mindset, budget, passion or business insights needed to deal with startups. Corporates need to identify AND empower “startup ambassador (teams)” to help ease over the cultural hiccups, and guide these startups to the right problem and keep them and the corporate focussed on it. This will ease the pain at both sides, and speed up an eventual solution. Ambassadors need to be on a strategic level preferably consisting of people with an entrepreneurial background, with an own -substantial- budget.


Final advice to startups

Watch what emerging technologies corporates are betting on (through press and investments). Make strategic choices about where you can work in parallel - you may have more success pitching your product there.  

  • Don’t email the CEO. He/she will push it down, whether interested or now. Learn how to find a your corporate champion.

  • If your team looks better than the corporate team, you will do well. Be professional! It really matters: look good, be on time, bring your A game!
  • Be cautious during PoC’s (proof of concepts): don’t get drawn into doing everything that the corporate asks for: push back, stick with what you are good at. It will look professional, focused, and will give the corporate the needed confidence you’re on top of it.
  • Think about the absolute pains and needs of the corporate customers and add these to the PoC.
  • Get training on your pitch (perhaps from your champion inside the corporate) and adapt your pitch to every corporate - no two should be the same. Do your research on how your solution would help this particular corporate to: serve their customers better, save money, increase revenue, stay ahead of competition or lower risk.

Startups and corporates have so much to benefit from each other. Some accelerators advise against trying to sell to/ work with corporates as a startup because of the risk losing a lot of time and energy. We don’t. We’re convinced there is win-win for both if certain conditions are met. Start it @KBC believes this could be a strong, reliable route to growth and success for startups and corporates, and can help both pursue it.