Start-ups and corporates are increasingly turning to each other for support, and this kind of cross-spectrum collaboration is set for an imminent and major upsurge.

By Eoin O'Hara

A colleague and myself recently hosted a tech meet up at Club Workspace Clerkenwell exploring the potential benefits for start-ups that decide to work alongside their larger corporate counterparts.

This was in reaction to some surprising developments that have been taking place in recent times - start-ups and corporates are increasingly turning to each other for support, and we think this kind of cross-spectrum collaboration is set for an imminent and major upsurge.  

But what would cause such a drastic shift in the notoriously ‘alternative’ start-up culture, and what benefits could persuade emerging businesses to hop into bed with their long-established cultural antagonists?

It is precisely the vast disparity between these two ends of the corporate spectrum which has birthed this unlikely allegiance, with both camps beginning to realise that closer collaboration may well be in their mutual interest.

Corporations possess the technical abilities, capital, manpower, industry clout, and connections that new businesses don’t

Corporates are envious of start-up culture because it breeds so many of the virtues that time and scale have taken away from them. Start-ups are nimble, reactive, efficient, trendy, outward looking, ambitious and often possess an entrepreneurial mind-set, which is driven by potential and encourages team-led innovation.  

Corporates know that they cut a dull figure in comparison, with convoluted management structures, inflexible adherence to policies, obsessive number crunching, and protectionist mind-sets motivated by fear of upsetting the status quo. This recipe makes for corporate environments, which stifle innovation, reduce efficiency, and make it extremely difficult for employees to enact positive change.

 

So, that’s why big businesses want to work with you, but why should you want to work with them?

Quite simply what start-ups have in creativity, gusto, passion, and innovation, they often lack in resources.  I am referring not only to the lack of capital (which is important) but to all of the other things which are crucial in making businesses with great potential, into ones with great successes.  

Their scale and accompanying vast resources mean that corporations possess the technical abilities, capital, manpower, industry clout, and connections that new businesses don’t. Like an angel investor on overdrive, a motivated corporate partner has the ability to open many doors, drop words into influential ears, and provide a leg-up for start-ups with the potential to impact their business or industry.  

Some purists will argue that such partnerships contradict the spirit of independence that has been the foundation of the start-up movement, and amounts to nothing less than selling out. Unfortunately there remains a notion amongst the start-up community that big businesses are their adversaries, or at the very least, have nothing of value to offer to fresh-faced innovators such as themselves.   

Forming partnerships (big or small) with corporates does not mean that start-ups must automatically sacrifice their autonomy,

This ‘start-ups are doing it for themselves’ mentality is all very well for impassioned blog posts about striking-out against the corporate machine but in reality, isn’t being closed-off to such opportunities a far bigger transgression?

The truth is that forming partnerships (big or small) with corporates does not mean that start-ups must automatically sacrifice their autonomy, and to suggest that it does is a fairly irresponsible opinion to perpetuate.  Forward-thinking corporates bear no ill will towards start-ups, nor do they possess ambitions to acquire them or ‘divide and conquer’.  Likewise they do not view start-ups as insignificant specks to be ignored, but rather as valuable partners with whom they can collaborate and learn.  

In recent times we have happily observed how big businesses are increasingly attempting to emulate start-up working culture, having rightly identified the value of the way they operate.

Many have been stealthy in identifying the potential benefits of establishing these unlikely partnerships and have demonstrated surprising ability to change their own working cultures to accommodate that of the start-ups they hope to work with.  As evidence of this, the next time you attend a major start-up event in London, take a look around to see how many corporates are in attendance.  

Of course some will be there for business acquisition, but equally others have a more progressive motive, to imbed themselves within the start-up ecosystem simply because they know the range and scope of opportunity which can come from having a visible presence within the start-up landscape.  

By becoming approachable people, rather than faceless logos many are making positive moves towards mutually beneficial collaborations, and equally the most open-minded start-ups are stepping forward to meet them.  

Will your start-up be one of them?     

Eoin O'Hara is a business developer at Startacus.net