If your company has been preparing to partner with startups to explore new, innovative areas, you'll want to make sure that the right building blocks are in place. Once you've identified the right startup partner, you want to take action quickly, and a complex assessment process may scuttle the deal.
Before your corporate innovation team starts to engage and partner with a startup, ask yourself the following questions:
How long does your company spend on the startup evaluation process, and what does that evaluation process look like?
Like any other business initiative, corporate innovation needs to follow scalable, repeatable processes. While every startup is unique, your company needs to follow a clear and thorough set of vetting criteria. It's this standardization that will allow short-term experimentations to add to your company's long-term bottom line.
One of the biggest reasons why corporate innovation program efforts fail is that they take significant resources and people-power to manage. From startup partnerships to accelerator programs, formal programs require heavy R&D, extensive prep work, and a high-touch approach to program administration. Without a clearly defined startup evaluation process, companies run the risk of bringing on the wrong partners—which could result in waste down the line.
How long does it take to obtain the necessary approvals?
As companies grow bigger, so does the potential for risk. That's why lengthy, multi-touch approval processes exist: to have multiple perspectives when you're pushing new ideas through your organization.
But corporate innovation is another story. To remain disruptive, startups need to move extremely quickly. A lengthy, complex, or drawn-out legal discussion may stop a partnership in its tracks.
It's because of this need for agility that companies like Comcast have created internal innovation sandboxes. But few organizations have the luxury to create sandboxes for every single innovation effort.
New models are emerging to tackle this challenge. For instance, corporations are pooling resources to create open innovation models and share access to the same pool of startups through an accelerator. Rabobank, for instance, is working with RocketSpace on Terra, a Food & Ag Tech Accelerator program for multiple food based corporates and startups.
How many startups do you meet in a year? Which of these relationships have been fruitful?
Founders of successful early stage companies are often heads-down, building their companies, so your innovation program needs to be a magnet—give startups a reason to reach out to your company. But no matter how magnetic you are, the process won't be entirely spontaneous. You need to think of your startup application process as a marketing funnel: you'll want to focus on building meaningful relationships, so that you're only spending your time pursuing the most viable leads.
Internal innovation programs don't always create a strong enough draw to bring in the startups you need. Lufthansa Cargo, for instance, had been running innovation programs for more than two decades, but realized it needed a boost to find more logistics startups. To meet this need, Lufthansa Cargo is partnering with other companies to run a logistics tech accelerator. Others are even running innovation labs for internal product development and testing, working with startups in shared office spaces.
The right path for you
When it comes to corporate innovation, it's the firms that have their ear to the ground and are positioned to move quickly that will come out ahead. Start by seeking out corporate innovation groups, membership programs, and research services.
Your first step? Conduct a thorough landscape analysis to see how ready you are to engage with a startup. Fine-tune your concept now for the most efficient and effective way to get started.
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