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:
- Organize competitions and awards in categories relevant to them (e.g. A pharma company can institute an award for healthcare startups.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.