“Disruptive innovation” is an idea most often attributed to Clayton M. Christensen in his 1995 article entitled Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. In it, he describes disruptive innovation as innovation that forges new markets by offering a different set of values. Ultimately, and usually, unexpectedly, these disruptive innovators can surpass the existing market.
This idea of disruption is something that many startups want to achieve. And in today’s digital age, there is ample opportunity for startups with novel approaches to old problems to grow very quickly. For established incumbents, that means staying ahead of the game or risk losing market share to newcomers. Now, as large companies are looking continually innovate, many are turning to startups to collaborate.
For many established companies, the potential to diversify their offerings to serve these new and growing markets can be a major incentive to work with disruptive startups, rather than only perceiving them as a threat. For startups, partnering with a larger company can help open up new opportunities to accelerate growth, including expanded market reach, third party validation, funding, and possibly lower costs associated with customer acquisition.
Complementary Strengths & Weaknesses
The dynamics within a startup and a large company are worlds apart, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be complementary. While corporations tend to be more bureaucratic and less agile, startups have the freedom to move quickly, with less red tape to cut through. Startups have far less (if any) financial cushion, and must continually strive to prove themselves. Corporations generally have more resources, with less pressure to demonstrate value that has already been established. In these ways, the two parties have a lot to offer one another.
What Makes a Good Partnership?
Before diving into finding a partner, startups should consider what they’re really after by securing a partnership. Is it market knowledge or access? Funding? Technical expertise? It likely may be a combination of things. Knowing what you want will make it easier to gauge potential partners and how they could help meet those needs.
Now, you must choose the right partner. Just because a partnership may present itself, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right one for your business. Appropriate alignment is crucial, especially in these areas:
- Company values – What drives each party to do what they do? Where is there overlap?
- Measurable goals – What is each party trying to accomplish? How can those goals be measured?
- Resources – What is each party willing and able to contribute to the collaboration?
- Project timeline – What needs to happen when, and who is responsible for what?
Two other major things to consider when choosing a partner are trust and communication. These things can make or break a partnership, so you must have each. Trust must flow both ways, and you need to be able to communicate effectively with one another.
Tips for Getting on a Company’s Radar
So, how do you land that big partnership? You likely won’t be surprised to hear that networking is your best friend here. Consult your current network to see if there are any connections there that could potentially be a good fit. You can also expand your circle by attending events. You never know where a connection might lead, so it’s in the best interest of both you and your business to always be networking.
Another way you can potentially get your foot in the door is through accelerators, incubators, or pitch competitions with companies you’re interested in working with. This is a win-win, as it can get your company exposure, third party validation, and of course, the general benefits of participating in such programs.
Finally, you can simply reach out to companies you want to work with who have a similar message and values. Of course, this is easier if you have a connection that can introduce you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it if you genuinely think it would make a mutually beneficial partnership.
A well planned corporate-startup partnership can yield beautiful results for both parties when approached thoughtfully. In summary, to increase your chances of landing a solid partnership:
- Have a clear vision of what you want out of a partnership
- Know your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths
- Network, network, network
- Be a mover in your space
It may take a lot of time and effort, but finding the right partnership can be a game-changer for a startup that is looking for its big break.