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20th July 2017 Events

How can big corporates work with startups?

The age old question, that like Arnie, keeps coming back. This was the overarching theme of Unbound London 2017, the two day event in heart of Shoreditch which brings together big corporates with startups to forge partnerships and (hopefully) explore new opportunities.

Along with FHA’s Nicky Harrison, I was there to network my little socks off and hear from both big business and startups in the heady world of tech innovation.

The first two sessions faced this question head on with a good mix of panellists, Elly Hardwick, Head of Innovation at Deutsche Bank, James Ashall, Director at Diageo Futures and Raja Saggi, Head of Marketing for Google in the first, and Andrew Ellis, Head of Strategy and Head of Innovation, Strategy and Private Banking, RBS and Anne Boden, CEO and Founder of Starling Bank in the second. The discussions quickly went from the ethereal question down to the nitty gritty. The speakers offered useful, practical advice about how startups and corporates can get the best out of each other and work towards a common goal – ensuring success. I thought it might be useful to capture and distil this information whilst obviously giving credit where credit is due:

1. Find the right pathway – as stated by Raja Saggi, it is still very difficult for a startups to engage with large brands. You need to identify the right pathways into the corporate you are aiming for, whether that is via an incubator, accelerator or department such as a designated Lab. Take time to do your research, attend the right events, NETWORK and don’t forget to ask.

2. Find the right person – you need to try to get to the correct person in the corporate that can really help you and be your advocate. All too often you can often waste valuable time going round the houses to find the right person. Equally, as James pointed out, brands don’t want to become time wasters for startups. He believes the onus is on big brands to make that interface possible and to only take those meetings if something will truly come of it.

3. Ask whether you are really ready and have the time – it takes time to engage with a corporate – they are much slower beast with lots of hoops to jump through. As Elly Hardwich pointed out, it takes a minimum of four months to sell in to a large financial institution. Ask yourself if you are you ready for a 6-12 month contract of engagement. And flip it over and ask yourself if your startup is ready to support the needs and requests of these large organisations…

4. Ensure you have secured your ‘firsts’ – As Raja said, it’s preferable to have the first iteration of your product, your first few customers and be making some money. And then look to secure that first round of funding which will allow you to recruit those you need, your first product manager or product marketing person.

5. Be realistic with the corporate you are engaging with – As Elly stated, the friction and the cost has to be proportionate. The minute a corporate hears a startup promising the earth they become incredibly sceptical. Be realistic with your passion.

6. Get governance right, especially if you are dealing with large financial institutions – Invest in this element of your business, it will be one of the first things they ask.

7. Don’t be fooled by early momentum – its not proven until it works directly with real customers (as pointed out by Andrew Ellis).

8. Start small and do a lot with a little – short and to the point advice from Andrew.

9. Engage! Get out there, be present, attend events, enter competitions, don’t just rely on endless meetings with big financial institutions as pointed out by Anne Boden, who has been on both the financial institution and the startup side.

10. Finally, a great piece of advice from Elly was that a startup selects its customers, not the other way round. Ultimately it’s up to the business to ensure the proposition or product that is being developed meets the customer needs and demands and of course works.

Overall, an interesting few sessions to start to the day. And at a time of political, economical and social uncertainty it ended on a positive note, Raja believes that London is one of the best places to start a business. ‘From inception to launch we have all the ingredients to help startups grow’.Hear hear.

Liz Alexander
@Liz611

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