How Startups Can Find The Right Corporate Partner

From an enabler to driver, technology is becoming core to every business and transforming business priorities.

learn more about Sangeeta Devni

By Sangeeta Devni


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You can make a peacock dance, but not an elephant. One is nimble, yet fragile, while other is strong but rigid. Seems like the perfect match; ones' weakness is the others' strength. Imagine the possibilities if both of them can live harmoniously, and depend on each other to grow.

These are the current realities and trends in the innovation ecosystem.On one hand, corporates are exploring how they can bring the start-ups to make their R&D efforts agiler and on the other hand start-ups are looking to partner with the big brother to best help their businesses mature and grow. Though this looks like a no brainer, many corporates and startups still struggle to work effectively and collaborate productively with each other.

Corporate scenario in India

Apart from many home grown big organizations & MNCs, India is also a host to over 1400+ Global In-house Centers (GICs) many of whom are looking to establish R&D centers in India. From an enabler to driver technology is becoming core to every business and transforming business priorities.

Many of these corporates are looking at optimizing traditional legacy IT spending to fund new digital-age initiatives and make their own IT systems ready for digital.Corporates are integrating deeper into the Indian ecosystem by forging partnerships with start-ups, universities and service providers to help achieve this objective.

There are 4 models in which Corporates are engaging with startups-

  • Corporate Venture fund (SAP, Qualcomm, IBM Watson venture capital group, Microsoft Ventures, Google Venture, Intel capital are some of the active venture funds)
  • Corporate accelerator (Microsoft Accelerator for Azure, PayPal, Oracle, Citrix accelerator and Cisco Accelerator are some of the other well-known start-up accelerators formed by MNCs)
  • Platform Evangelism (Microsoft BizSpark program, Google cloud platform, Bluemix, AWS, IBM, Oracle, Rackspace, Salesforce etc.)
  • Ecosystem Collaboration - Other engagements in this category widely falls under Hackathons, Startup competitions, conferences, meetups, thought leaderships etc.

While corporates today are more open to doing the pilot, lightweight integrations, investment and eager to carry out the acquisitions, the onus is really on the start-ups to find the right match for themselves. For that, you need to be clear on what is it that you are looking for? Is it

  1. Market knowledge,
  2. Market access,
  3. Corporate as customer
  4. Technical expertise,
  5. Business expertise,
  6. Customer data, an existing customer base,
  7. Distribution network or
  8. Funding

Startups in different stage need different things.

Corporates will rate you based on the maturity and market readiness of your product, whether your product or technology will easily find commercial application and customers, taking into account the regulatory environment and current innovations in the field.

Excerpts from the report - A Framework for Deep-Tech Collaboration by BCG & Hello Tomorrow

  • Entrepreneurs must think not only about the technological development of their product but also about how to jump-start nascent or non-existing markets.
  • Anticipate and understand customer needs that don't yet exist, as well as a detailed strategy that addresses the challenges of industrialization and scaling up production.
  • Deep-tech start-ups need sharply honed business skills to work through such challenges as procurement, manufacturing, and achieving scale.
  • For large companies with big innovation ambitions, picking the deep technologies to support depends on strategic priorities and a strong market assessment.

Your enterprise selling success depends on how you approach value based solution selling as a startup, identify your customer's key pain point, other stakeholders in the company, solution direction, and use that to build a strong case for your product?

Few other things to consider while partnering with a corporate

  • Align your product offering with the clear value proposition and proof of concept.
  • Define the relationship right from the beginning, including agreeing on vision, business, knowledge, and HR objectives
  • Before formalizing the partnership, spend some time dating and getting to know each other :)
  • Iron out potentially thorny issues—such as intellectual property (IP) rights—and test the viability of the partnership, achieving some quick wins, working on mutually defined projects, and building momentum through a short but intense period.
  • Be in the know of the complex corporate decision making processes and timelines.

Time is ripe for the corporates and start-ups to become BFFs to drive the next wave of digital revolution.

Sangeeta Devni

Entrepreneur, NASSCOM Executive

Sangeeta Devni is an entrepreneur, creative thinker, and team leader with a passion for bettering people’s lives, especially women.  Since 1988, NASSCOM has been a non-profit trade association representing the Indian IT and business process outsourcing industry. Being one of the early members of NASSCOM's ambitious 10,000 Start-ups Initiative, she worked towards the launch, shaping, and execution of India’s biggest startup program, including creating platforms to evangelize tech entrepreneurship, building capabilities of tech entrepreneurs, driving investments in start-ups and assisting startups with business connects. She drives two key programs – one to impact and nurture startups by building the massive Mentor Program Pan India, and the other to bring more women into tech roles and evangelizing for women entrepreneurship. She is responsible for skill building; shortlisting startups and helping them validate their ideas and build products through events, partnerships, and other strategic activities. She constructed the entire Mentors program which now has 200 Mentors throughout India supporting startups at each step, from defining and detailing their concept into a business plan, to implementing their idea and refining the product by leveraging NASSCOM’s vast infrastructure, user base, and experience. In the Girls in Tech program, she managed the strategic roll out of a special program--10000 Startups--to encourage girls to pursue technology careers through effective mentorship with industry leaders and women entrepreneurs.

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