Community Knowledge

The ‘why’. ‘what’ and ‘how’ of engaging with tech start-ups

Whitespace logo By Whitespace

The January meeting of the Whitespace Innovation Community looked at best practice for collaboration with tech start-ups and the broader start-up ecosystem within a corporate open innovation context.

A person looking at wireframes on a Whiteboard

Meeting Theme

The January meeting of the Corporate Innovation Club looked at best practice for collaboration with tech startups and the broader startup ecosystem within a Corporate open innovation context.

As ever the topics of discussion were lively and varied, but on the whole, the conversation focused on understanding what start-ups themselves expect and want from the process of corporate innovation, and what can be done to maximise the potential and impact of such collaborations. Along with specially invited expert guests and comment from the club’s members, the meeting also welcomed three founders of thriving tech start-ups, offering focused, pragmatic and sometimes surprising perspectives on corporate engagement and the experiences they have had but also the recommendations they had for Corporates.

While ostensibly the meeting looked to offer practical insights into best practice for partnering with tech start-ups, the conversation was a notably organic, dynamic one, and many insights explored less tangible aspects of such innovations.

Key Takeaways

It was suggested that there are both formal and informal elements to developing an Innovation initiative for tech start-ups. Considering both as distinct can be useful.

The concept of ‘frugal innovation’ was presented and discussed, which considers how being under-resourced can be a motivator for resourcefulness, while being well resourced can be the antidote to innovation.

Sometimes the best ideas and innovations come through resourcefulness, when ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Equally, tech start-ups are often low on resource and high on innovation. Embracing such a mindset and resisting throwing too much resource at an innovation initiative can deliver better results, though it is a strategy that can be hard to plan for and around.

On a practical note, it was recommended that start-up innovation projects can become stifled if they are too insular, and should instead be shared with other departments and teams within a Corporation.

That openness, can, however, add friction and complication to the innovation process and stall progress. Equally, closed start-up innovators can ostracise other Corporate staff who only see the innovation ‘through the meeting room window’, and feel progress is being made without them. However, it was also suggested that involving staff from other departments can have a similar impact.

Start-ups can bring in technology, services, and culture that will be appealing to a Corporation’s own clients.

As such, it can be worth pooling insights on client interest around a start-up’s offering before approaching C-suite to pitch such an innovation initiative. As one attendee put it: ‘don’t ask permission to innovate’. It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but one with some sincerity behind it.

Start-ups can bring in technology, services, and culture that will be appealing to a Corporation’s own clients.

As such, it can be worth pooling insights on client interest around a start-up’s offering before approaching C-suite to pitch such an innovation initiative. As one attendee put it: ‘don’t ask permission to innovate’. It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but one with some sincerity behind it. 4

Significant insights were gleaned thanks to meeting attendance by tech scale-up founders leading relatively mature businesses with proven revenues and robust experience of engaging with Corporate as innovation partners and/or clients.

For Further Consideration