3 reasons companies do not work with startups + 3 ways to overcome them


Written by:
Hanne Kettunen
Director, Corporate Venturing

We meet dozens of high-level decision makers weekly. 95% of our meetings are great. They give energy to all parties for the rest of the day. We come back with an overflow of ideas, a request for proposal and new insight. Both us and the customer! The last 5% includes meetings where we return home a little sad.

My TOP3 list of the saddest things we hear:

  1. “Startups are just a hype”

  2. “Wow, this is so exciting, we should do something!”

  3. "Right now, we don’t have the people for this”

Number one is always a bit of a downer but not too hard to crack in the end. We just need to find the right benchmark cases, show some cold data and tell a few of our best anecdotes. Some extra legwork and ideation is needed, but it is usually worth the work. We work to make someone from the C-suite “see the light”.

The second seems like a good thing to hear, but is often a devil in disguise. It might translate to startups are cool and we should work with them to change our culture and become cool ourselves. Always a wrong way to start; working with startups is a win-win setting with real business goals for both parties. Also, getting too excited in the beginning might mean that you set out head first to working with a number of startups in a number of domains and set yourself for a sure failure - and not the good kind. At worse, quick decisions are made with limited market insight, too little resources and lacking communication. Fast forward one year and you will hear someone say “startups are just a hype, we tried it a year ago and it wasn’t for us”.

Number three addresses the issue that number two will show you. It is actually pretty good that this reality is noted - after all, you most likely will not have the people for this. But when will you? Will there be a year when suddenly someone is available? When your strategy director or CDO find themselves idle? Obviously no. In the end, the solution is surprisingly easy. You need to make the time, prioritise. I understand there is still a lot of digital transformation debt to be paid. You struggle with legacy systems, customer experience demands and the constant changes in technologies. But here is the catch: if you gave some time to building your venturing ecosystem, you would start tackling these exact same challenges only with better tools.

The hard fact of today is that while you get ready for the upcoming change, the world swims by. Companies around you change, evolve, run. The fastest runners are the ones who’ve learned to master their venturing, and who thus have the position to pick the best partners and see the hidden market trends. It might be wise to start running alongside them.

Easier said than done, right? Sure. But we can give you a few pointers on the basis of our most successful customers, who were all in that exact same situation not too long ago. They also felt the pressure that something needed to be done but they were not completely sure what and why. Also, they right now did not have the people for this.

Here are our TOP3 advice on how to overcome the issue of limited resources and visibility:

  1. Just do it - start from somewhere. Join an multi-partner innovation program (see e.g. what we did in the Accenture Accelerator) or arrange your own; do a landscape analysis to understand the ecosystem and the potential out there; start meeting with more potential startups yourself and build your first mini pilot together with one. Then compare your results to your traditional development patterns. Better, faster, more fun? Likely. Big investment and risk? No.

  2. Dedicate & prioritise: When you do start hustling, make sure there is at least one person whose entire job description hovers over venture building, either with startups or internally. This really means 100% dedication. Free this person from other duties, goals and reporting and see what happens. Give your dedication a timeline, e.g. six months to make the decision easier. After this trial period see what you learned and how many pilots were started. Now you are ready to dedicate two more people and ta-daa! You have an innovation lab (see next).

  3. Partner up & bring structure: Once you have been able to convince yourself that working with and like startups is indeed smart, fun and profitable, start creating permanent structures. Creating an innovation lab sound like a big task, but is really mostly about partners and decision models. Surround yourself with the right partners for venture strategy, screening & scouting, innovation challenges and create a budget for venturing. Start from one domain, like “logistics”, and make that work nicely first before expanding to new areas.

From those who have already stepped on this path, we usually hear the most beautiful sentence in the world: “Yes we have started to build our venture arm, next we need to explore a new domain”. And then we roll up our sleeves and start exploring.  


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