How corporates can find innovation and disruptive ideas by engaging with the startup eco-system

There is a lot of innovation happening outside of company R&D labs. In startups. And the only way companies can get early access to that innovation is if they engage with startups meaningfully.

Engaging with the startups eco-system can give corporates to get early access to innovation in several aspects of their business – from disruptive products to disruptive solutions in marketing, finance, supply chain, operations and indeed any aspect of business.

Meaningfully designed startup engagement programs can also help companies attract talent, and enhance their brand appeal with the younger generation of entrepreneurially minded, innovation driven, consumers.

Often large companies feel that startup engagement programs will be complicated for them to design, and challenging to implement. But there are several easy-to-do models in which large companies can initiate their interactions with startups, and gradually deepen the engagement. Some of the models of engagement will be simpler to decide on and implement, while some may need deep thinking, and some may even need board level approvals to execute.

Likewise, most startups love to engage with large companies because companies can give them access to markets, and of course, insights and learnings from their senior professionals and industry veterans.

Below are some models and initiatives that corporates could consider:

  1. Organize competitions and awards in categories relevant to them (e.g. A pharma company can institute an award for healthcare startups.)
  2. Launching an innovation hunt in specific areas of their interest: E.g. An automobile company or a white goods company can create a program to identify and engage with startups with robotics or IoT solutions for manufacturing. Companies can assist the winners in taking their business to the next level via mentoring and access to markets, etc., or they can even provide them grants or prize money as might be possible for the company.
  3. Startup Mentoring Program: Companies can encourage their senior professionals to mentor relevant startups, and create a framework on how that engagement can be meaningful for the startup, mentor and the company. Mentoring startups provides senior professionals a ringside view of innovation in those companies.
  4. Accelerator or Incubator Programs: A 3-6 month structured program to sharpen the products and business of high-potential startups. Many leading corporations across the globe have found great value in launching accelerator/incubator programs.
  5. Investing in startups: Creating a fund to support and invest startups, or co-investing via existing platforms or angel investor networks can give companies a deeper engagement with startups that are most relevant to them.


Suggestions to make a startup engagement initiatives meaningful for companies:

  • Clearly identify a problem(s) that the business would like to find solutions for. The more specificity you bring in to the problem definition, the sharper the curation, mentoring and refinement of the potential solutions can be.
  • Clearly articulate what models of engagement the company would like to consider for taking potentially relevant solutions forward. E.g.
    • Assisting with market access
    • Exclusivity arrangements
    • Acquisition of teams or technologies
    • Partnership
    • Strategic investments.
  • Creating a pool of domain and function experts within the company to volunteer as mentors for promising candidates. Not only does this infuse excitement into the senior management as they get to engage with exciting new ideas, their perspectives and insights also help participating teams enormously, thus creating much sharper, practical and well-thought through solutions.
  • Involving PR and corporate communication teams and partners to leverage the initiative to strengthen brand equity.

Author: Prajakt Raut

Prajakt Raut is the founder of, and author of the book for startups - ‘Starting Up & Fund Raising’ Prajakt personal goal in life is to encourage and assist a 100,000 people to become entrepreneurs. _____________ Prajakt is the founder of Applyifi - an online platform that provides startups a 36-point scorecard and assessment report on the venture's investment readiness [], and helps them improve their odds of getting funded. Prajakt is also the founding partner of The Growth Labs, a platform where growth-stage companies get sharp, incisive advice from senior professionals and experienced entrepreneurs. [] Before starting Applyifi, Prajakt was the head of operations at IAN, founding member of a leading incubator, and the Asia-Director for TiE (2004 - 2007). Previously Prajakt had co-founded Orange Cross, a healthcare services company, and was part of the founding team member of Idealake Technologies. While in college Prajakt had founded a printing business and has spent over 10 years working in leading advertising agencies. Prajakt’s book, ‘Starting Up & Fund Raising’, helps startups understand an investor’s perspective, and helps them improve their odds of getting funded. The book also helps entrepreneurs understand the building blocks of a business.

One thought on “How corporates can find innovation and disruptive ideas by engaging with the startup eco-system”

  1. how that engagement can be meaningful for the startup, mentor and the company – this really is the crux that it boils down to…..
    the startup will be happy if it progresses either thru’ funding or valuable and relevant mentorship; (which btw is sometimes hard to find)
    the mentor – of course has to have a piece of the pie and most often have very well earned it
    the company – this becomes tricky as most often we find them to be fishing for the initial ideas and then the hand-holding is never there to follow up, especially in the case of grants or prize moneys, its only the initial euphoria for the entrepreneur and then the chances of in-house developing of the idea always exists! a catch-22 of course but really if corporate’s can allocate a significant portion of their R & D until Series A or some such more definitive stage of the venture progress that’d would be something meaningful

    Again dunno if all this is truly delivered by corporate’s interacting with startups, which btw is been happenning only for the last 5-10 yrs i suppose
    for taking potentially relevant solutions forward. E.g.
    Assisting with market access
    Exclusivity arrangements
    Acquisition of teams or technologies
    Strategic investments.

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