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Dancing with Corporates: Six Tips for Startup Entrepreneurs

Opinion

Dancing with Corporates: Six Tips for Startup Entrepreneurs

Find your sponsor, research organizational structure, enhance existing products, and brace for changes. A survival guide for startups looking to partner with multinational corporations

Matan Bordo | 12:12  19.01.2018

For startups, partnering with corporates is easier said than done. Corporations and startups need each other—the former to escape the constantly creeping threat of obsolescence; the latter for proprietary data and validation. But while most startups wish to foster such collaborations many do not. According to a Boston Consulting Group research published April 2017, almost all 380 out of 400 surveyed wanted to develop long-term corporate partnerships, but only 57% have done so.

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For Israeli startups, the need is even more pressing, given the small size of their domestic market. To thrive, these startups need to learn to “dance” with corporate counterparts, overcoming cultural differences, slower decision making and development cycles, and cumbersome hierarchical corporate labyrinths. One wrong move — whether in the beginning or towards the end of a deal—can spoil months and years of hard work and time.

Dance (illustration). Photo: PR Dance (illustration). Photo: PR Dance (illustration). Photo: PR

I asked five corporate innovation experts overseeing strategic partnerships and investments with startups for insights that can be helpful for startups looking to engage with corporates.

1. Find your sponsor. “Make sure you find one executive sponsor within the company who's committed to supporting you and your company,” says Ido Fishler, a business development lead at SAP Labs Israel. According to Mr. Fishler, support required from you corporate evangelist can include technical guidance and permission to access private APIs, mentorship, and introductions to potential customers in the organization.

2. Research corporate structure. While a certain unit may seem a right fit as it addresses the same end-customers, reach to market may be done via another unit altogether, says Or Shin, a director of innovation at JCI Open Innovation.

3. Consider your position. If you are looking to sell your product to corporate make sure you understand what is involved in the process and how long it may take. A first nod is just that. Proof of concept on different sites and travel expenses can pile up and burn through cash available. “Long sales cycles can kill early stage startups,” says Gal Ringel, a principal at Verizon Ventures.

4. Do your homework. Before approaching a corporate client, understand how your technology fits in with the client’s products. Don’t expect the executives you meet to come up with possible synergies—find the synergies beforehand and present them at the meeting, says Uri Pachter, a technology and innovation scout at Faurecia. “Don't merely say, ‘This is what we developed, now it is up to you to think about a relevant use for it,’” Mr. Pachter said.

5. Enhance, do not replace. NIH—Not Invented Here—is a major obstacle. Corporate research and development units tend to think they know best, tried everything, and anything other than their developments is inferior, says Mr. Shin. .”Try offering your solution as a something that will complement the corporate product or helps enhance it, rather than replace or improve it,” he said.

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6. Brace for changes. Key people change places; companies can shift gears regarding expenditure, change strategies or even get bought. “It often happens that your startup’s contact at the corporation has resigned or has received a promotion, or interests change and the momentum breaks,” says Yoni Blau, director Blau, director of open innovation and strategic investments at Flex.

Matan Bordo is a ventures manager at Tel Aviv-based startup accelerator The Junction and at venture firm F2 Capital.
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