How can a startup get the attention of a major corporation, create value, and not get eaten alive? Canon along with Michele McConomy at RocketSpace hosted panelists from PARC, Qualcomm Innovation Program, SAP Startup Focus, and AT&T Aspire Accelerator to offer the inside scoop.
Here’s their advice on #HarnessingGoliath:
1. Do your homework
What are the company’s major financial decisions and vision? What departments are relevant for you? Jacob Saperstein of AT&T recommends this type of research to help you build a list of the right strategic partners to contact, and show that you are truly interested in working with this company. Triangulating also helps — the more champions, the better. On the corporate side, they like to sponsor and attend events or tradeshows to find great entrepreneurs. (Hint: be there, too)
2. Sell value and insights, not your product
Right. They know you’re smart and building great technology. Success all depends on the team and the value you can create for both you and the corporation. Even in a cold email, Navrina Singh of Qualcomm advises that the corporation employee wants to see passion and value. And Mark Stevenson of PARC suggests that corporations often evaluate startups by:
…looking first at the team, then investors, and only third the technology.
And if you have to send five emails or even 20 emails to get attention, always add insights. Follow relevant news from the company that relates to the value you’re offering. Your reader will appreciate your sincerity as a clue to how you might be as a future partner.
3. Build trust
Don’t act like you have a complete solution to solve everything. Figure out how you connect with the corporations larger efforts, sign an NDA, and show them enough of your technology to continue the conversation. Stevenson also warns not to say too much — the corporation will get afraid of you contaminating their own existing IP.
And a note on credibility from Singh — if you’re navigating through multiple contacts, remember to share and collaborate, without pitting employee advocates against each other. The other half of your credibility is the corporations you choose to partner with. Choose partners for really valuable feedback on product market fit, or those who will represent your brand well for future clients.
4. Accelerator and innovation programs can help
David Sonnenschein of SAP advised that even if the accelerator or innovation program isn’t your target within the corporation, they’re often a great avenue to start with. They are already familiar with advocating for startups. Find a sponsor, mentor, champion, or a partner in that group. Saperstein says even going through a contact like McConomy at Rocketspace is a great start.
And from my personal experience on the Google side of the table, those folks are eager to support startups and showcase their story in a way that helps both David and Goliath. The success of corporate innovation programs depends on the success of the entrepreneurs they partner with.
5. Protect yourself
Despite how much you want the partnership, Sonnenschein warns startups to stick to their vision and plan. Pivot and learn if necessary. But don’t let yourself get manipulated into becoming a small engineer at a big company, because that may stunt the product’s potential and scale. Even worse are expensive lawyers — Saperstein reminds us that corporate lawyers are just available in-house, whereas startups can get eaten alive by hourly rates. In fact, Stevenson says you should know very quickly if the corporation isn’t going to buy. If so, move in a different direction.
Do you have great examples of corporate partnerships with startups? Tell your story about #HarnessingGoliath.
Want more resources for startups?
Check out our Guide to Getting Media Coverage for Your Startup.