Scaling together: collaboration between startups and companies

Published on Thursday, 31 March 2016

The collaboration among startups and companies and the obstacles that often keep these collaborations from taking place is at the center of the report “Scaling Together” recently published by Nesta, a non profit organization with the objective to help entrepreneurs and organizations give life to great ideas – in collaboration with the Scale-up Institute, as part of the Startup Europe Partnership project, financed by the European Commission to help startups grow through collaborations with companies. 

In the document, case histories are presented as well as practical advice to favor this type of collaboration. Also in the report, you can read how partnership relations among companies and startups are increasing quickly, with more and more companies that see these opportunities as a mechanism to gain access to innovation and promote an internal cultural change. But even if big companies often enter into agreement with each other to innovate, improve and create value, they still seem very reluctant to do so with the startups. The forms of collaboration, in this case, are numerous and of a different nature: from incubation to acceleration, from the joint design of a product to the actual acquisition, each one of them has particular benefits and advantages.

The research behind the report demonstrated how three quarters of the startups and scale-ups found it advantageous to be able to collaborate with a company, from which they usually obtain support, references, important contacts and visibility. A demonstration of how this type of relationship is to be encouraged, the studies also showed – from the opposite perspective –an increase in business for companies. Among the successful cases proposed in the report there is also Enel, who, for many years now, has collaborated with young startups in areas such as smart grid technology, energy storage and data analysis.

To arrive at a process of profitable collaboration, however, Enel has put a system in place that allows a careful selection of the startups with which they work, coming up with a fast and simple five-step plan. The first is preliminary screening, which takes place through the selection of startups with whom the Group comes in contact with. The second is based on the feedback of the Advisory Board, who decides to proceed or not with collaboration on a specific project. The third phase, called Commercial Due Diligence, serves to evaluate the activity of the startups in order to understand their value and impact. Following this is the actual negotiation phase, in which the contract, the project and the collaboration agreement is structured. Everything concludes with the fifth and final phase, in which the Innovation Committee gives its final approval. Five steps to follow, respecting the right timing and target deadlines in order to prevent harmful wastes of time for both parties.

The Enel example shows how with the right strategy, the obstacles – above all cultural – can be overcome, that they still too often impede a profitable collaboration among startups, scale-ups and big companies. 

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