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We advise our corporate clients against startup collaborations – here is why

Elisabeth Korshunova
Corporate startup collaborations are often considered to be the key to successful innovation projects. But is that really the case?
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The hype behind corporate startup collaboration

Hackathons, Corporate Accelerators, Startup Acquisitions – we have seen it all. Collaborations between corporates and startups have been booming in the past years – and with good reason. Such partnerships allow fast exploration of new technologies and inspiring exchange between the involved parties. Startups bring the disruptive ideas and hands-on mentality, while corporates come with resources and valuable market knowledge.  

However, if the prospects of such collaborations are so promising, why do we call them a hype? The straight-forward answer is simply because of the immense amount of time and money wasted on corporate startup collaborations. Of course, there have been some great partnerships that have proven to be successful. But most, unfortunately, lack proper strategy to navigate through the numerous risks associated.

Complicating the complicated 

Innovation as such is already associated with much uncertainty. We believe that involving another party into your innovation efforts only increases the risks. Let’s look into the reasons why collaboration programs often fail.  

There are millions of assumptions in the room when starting new ventures or products. If not tested and challengedassumptions can be dangerousbe it in a corporate or startup. They might lead to a solution or product that has no actual (validated!) need on the market.  

Furthermore, there are the challenges in the implementation that organizations face. Not being able to properly onboard internal stakeholders, no alignment with the overall strategic goals, or neglecting implementation after a compelling start are just a few of the many obstacles that can arise. It is essential to understand internal processes well and to have a lot of stamina in order to really push forward.  

When adding another partner into the game, things might get even more complicated. First, the corporate and startup might just not be a good fit – whether it is the stage they are in, the organizational cultures or dynamic capabilities. Secondly, there might be misalignment on expectations and goals. Thirdly, the time or type of the collaboration might just not be the right one – especially when there is no readiness yet from both sides. The same way startups need to prepare for corporate, corporates need to prepare for startups. Hence, we suggest a more organic way of submerging into the startup ecosystem. 

Submerging the right way into the startup ecosystem  

Let us be clear – in no way we discourage corporates and startups working alongside each other. On the contrary, at TheVentury we have been supporting both startups as well as established companies. We have made one interesting observation specifically regarding intrapreneurship teams. Through the years we have experienced the parallels between intrapreneurship teams and early-stage startup teams – the similar needs they have in their most intensive growth phase and the common struggles that they face.  

However, we do encourage having a strong in-house innovation base before going into dependencies with externals. Therefore, this spring we opened the Elevate accelerator program to intrapreneurship teams and welcomed RBI as the first established company on board. We can now offer corporate teams an agile and inspiring environment to work side by side with young startups on forward-looking ideas and business models. This way, they can enjoy the educational and inspirational aspects, while remaining in the familiar to the organizational structure and processes. 

Conclusion 

We have all heard about them. The feared corporate startup collaborations that often turn into unfruitful innovation theatre or brutal acquisitions that end a startup (yeah, Silicon Valley, we are looking at you!). So, how can we ensure that a collaboration runs smoothly? 

Just like they tell us in airplanes to secure our own oxygen mask first before helping others, we believe the same goes for innovation projects. If you are not confident in your own innovation strategy, you and the other party you want to help could both go down. Therefore, before engaging in a corporate startup collaboration, we encourage our clients to make sure they have adequate innovation experience from within

An intrapreneurship program is a great and resource-efficient way to test the waters. And including intrapreneurs in an entrepreneurship program such as Elevate, opens up a valuable space of learning together and also from each other.  

Would you like to find out more about how we can help you build your intrapreneurship program? Get in touch

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