This article was published on March 6, 2017

How to create a successful corporate-startup collaboration

How to create a successful corporate-startup collaboration
Lauren Gilmore
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Lauren Gilmore

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The idea that corporations and startups excel better together isn’t new. We all know innovation is key to sustained success, and one way to accelerate innovation is through collaboration.

Three-quarters of startups that collaborated with corporations reported their experience to be highly beneficial. And research shows that collaboration leads to increased business for corporation.

But while this all sounds good and well, it’s definitely easier said than done. Successful collaboration is difficult and success stories of bringing the two together in a systematic way are few and far between.

So if you’ve found yourself wondering what the secret-sauce of collaboration is, here are seven tips to a rewarding relationship.

Prepare for collaboration

First and foremost, startups and corporations need to assess their internal readiness.

Startups shouldn’t even think about collaborating until they’ve developed a commercially viable solution. Once that’s done, it should define its target segment, analyze the market, and identify larger companies operating in that space.

On the flip side, corporations should foster an entrepreneurial culture in its organization. This lowers the cultural barriers to collaboration and innovation.

Experiment with methods from the startup scene, help employees develop their entrepreneurial mindset, and adopt a ‘zero distance’ approach towards innovation.

Find a champion on the inside

Both organizations should network to find people in the ‘other camp’ who have an infectious enthusiasm for the collaboration.

While these champions aren’t the ultimate decision makers, they have four key traits that make them invaluable: credibility, connections, company intelligence, and motivation.

Create a win-win relationship

Collaboration only works if both sides add value to each other.

Credit: Credit: IslandWriter
To be truly mutually beneficial, focus on what you can do for each other, not what you can get out of it. Demonstrate your value by understanding each other’s pain-points and motivations.

You should also share resources. Startups should freely allow access to technology and corporations should candidly introduce their existing clients and prospects.

Respect the need for independence

Collaboration is a partnership, not a domination. There was a reason the two partners decided to work together. Each business needs to be in control of its own destiny.

Don’t treat each other like just another consulting company or development shop. And definitely don’t use and abuse one another.

Remaining independent ensures that you don’t become complacent and always respect the vision for the company you created.

Clear communication is key

Strive to make communication between teams as easy as possible. If any party holds back information, work becomes inefficient and morale ultimately plummets.

So always seek trust, honesty and transparency. This is includes being clear with your objectives: what you’re looking to achieve and what you’re hoping the collaboration will do for your business.

Both sides should agree on what success looks like. And if one of the partners is unclear on the business value of this partnership, be extremely cautious.

Be flexible and patient

Larger companies often have a robust infrastructure of key decision-making so it’s  important to be flexible. As a startup, you should Identify how to effectively work within the organizational structure rather than asking them to bend their rules.

However, leaders within the corporation must be careful not to develop tunnel vision, fixating on one goal. This is detrimental to the success and longevity of this partnership.

Know that initiatives will not be developed and executed overnight, and it will take time to reach goals you have set for the partnership. The key is to be patient.

Accept failure

The sweetest victories are the ones that are the most difficult – those that require you to reach down deep inside and fight with everything you’ve got.

But failure is a natural part of innovation and a vital part of the process.

Not every initiative you create will be successful, but you’ll learn something important from each. So accept failing experiments that become the stepping stone to success.

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