Successful collaboration between startups and corporates

Collaborations between corporates and startups have been gaining traction in recent years across a variety of sectors.

For many corporates, both incremental and transformational innovation is key to remaining relevant in the short and long term.

Partnerships with startups provide the opportunity to engage with new technologies and explore these transformational opportunities.

One option for businesses with an interest in innovating and working with cutting-edge technologies, is to develop an open innovation programme that seeks to partner and co-create with start-ups and early stage businesses. Many corporates realise that ground-breaking innovation doesn’t always come from internal research and development, and tapping into the creativity and energy of the start-up world can give access to emerging technologies.

What are the benefits of working with a corporate?

Startups are often ahead of the curve with what they are doing, with many people doubting them by default.

Having a leading corporate in the relevant sector say that they think what the start-up is doing is interesting to them can be huge internal and external validation with investors, employees, press and customers. For us, another important benefit is access to legal and regulatory advice which will help shape our product and get it ready for market.

The option to test a product in a realistic scenario is also something we would have struggled to do without support from an established business.

For corporates, collaborating with startups offers an exciting route to innovative technologies, trends and breeds opportunities.

For start-ups, collaborations with companies like ours can provide excellent promotional opportunities, champion customers and validate the technology; helping to raise their profile and give them an invaluable springboard into an industry.

Big businesses may lack the agility of start-ups, but can leverage their expertise, experience and provide access to data, customer insight and real-life test beds for start-ups. At Startup Mzansi, we do not ask for intellectual property or require exclusivity to technologies. A partnership is successful when restrictive requirements are avoided, and instead efforts go towards fostering growth so both parties benefit in the long term.”

What are the best ways for startups to approach a corporate?

Startups can approach corporates in a number of different ways. For some, partnership functions provide a system for responding to briefs and establishing contact.

At Start up Mzansi, we have key areas of focus that are based upon strategic needs, but we are open to all discussions with startups. Whether by directly reaching out to corporates or through meeting at events or conferences, most companies actively seeking partners will be receptive to innovative technologies.

It’s important to find a business where you like the people you’re working with and there is a cultural fit. This is as important, if not more so, than the product.

Startups will find real value with big businesses who look past short-term supplier-operator structures, but instead want a longevity in the relationship to develop something truly ground breaking.

There are lots of corporates actively seeking partnerships so it’s important to judge each one by its merits.

Corporates can sometimes be preoccupied by the desire to be seen to be innovating, so it’s important to recognise when corporates are truly engaged and committed to collaborations, and when they are purely after PR and want to appear innovative.

How can startups establish a beneficial collaboration with a corporate?

Have clear goals of what the partnership will accomplish.

Corporates can offer lots of great opportunities to startups but to really maximize the relationship for both parties, it needs to be carefully planned.

Make sure that, as a startup, you understand the corporate’s goals for the relationship just as much as your own.

Collaborations should be mutually beneficial, but also have mutual effort, with both parties sharing the risk and reward. Transformational change takes time and so needs a commitment to a long-term relationship.

Startups should be wary of corporates using partnerships to hoover up new ideas or get free work done, but conversely they also shouldn’t see partnerships as a quick route to being a preferred supplier.

It’s about utilising the skills and capabilities of both parties to create something innovative.


Sandile Shabangu

149 Startup Blog posts

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