Start-ups and big corporates need each other

Collaboration can unlock the strengths of smaller and larger firms, says Unilever Foundry's Jonathan Hammond.

by Jonathan Hammond
Last Updated: 01 Feb 2018

Due to rapid developments in emerging technology, the world around us is evolving faster than ever before.

In order to keep up with the accelerating rate of innovation, businesses are becoming more aware of ways to tackle this challenge in alternative and disruptive ways and are looking to start-ups to help.

Companies in the Fortune 500 have hired start-up scouts, innovation hubs are opening in Silicon Valley and corporate desk spaces are now moving towards being shared with start-ups. Michigan-based Menlo Innovations are an example of the latter, claiming that fresh entrepreneurs can ‘bring in perspectives and ideas that wouldn’t occur naturally if it was just us’.

We predict, by 2025, that start-ups and businesses will be working side-by-side in the same office space as collaboration becomes strategically important and key to innovating future businesses.

The benefits of collaboration

Interestingly, we’ve also seen that businesses can learn a lot from start-ups’ methods of working, particularly on approval processes.

Similarly, it’s important to recognise the benefits to start-ups themselves. Access to well-known, established brands and the ability to test their product in a real-world situation with an organisation can help them scale and grow, whereas without the vast resources of a large business, many start-ups would struggle to facilitate this kind of growth.

Established businesses can use their own experience to advise on factors such as HR processes, IT systems and business models, saving start-ups invaluable money and time.

What makes ‘good’ collaboration?

Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd works closely with a range of start-ups to inspire innovation and have found their agility has allowed them to operate faster and efficiently, whilst Dell now include ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ as a KPI for all employees following a partnership with start-up VISBUZZ.

Not every partnership is guaranteed to be effective, of course and there are key barriers that must be overcome to ensure future collaborations run smoothly.

Formal programmes, aimed at tackling specific problems, see a far greater return and transformative change than the simple ad-hoc tactics which are currently widely-used. In the next few years, we believe there will be more strategic investment, focussing on what’s core to the business and encouraging greater results.

When designing such programmes, experience tells us that smooth procurement processes, ability to measure achievements and access to resource and networks are viewed among the most critical elements for start-ups, and must be kept in mind by businesses.

Stark differences in culture between the two bodies, timeliness and finding the right decision-makers also provide rightful concerns for start-ups when navigating these relationships.

The move towards shared working spaces will become more commonplace and will help to overcome these obstacles, stirring more of the entrepreneurial culture into their offices and representing a physical manifestation of the commitment by businesses.

While there are still obstacles, in both physical and cultural differences, we do know that these can be overcome as partnerships between businesses and start-ups evolve and continue to flourish.

It’s clear that collaboration between the two can no longer be viewed as an optional extra, with start-ups now being widely recognised as an invaluable source of innovation, fuelling growth and providing pioneering business solutions to meet the changing demands of consumers.

Jonathan Hammond is Global Marketing Director and Head of Unilever Foundry.

Image credit: Pui Shan Chan/Wikimedia Commons

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