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Startups & major groups: our tips for a better approach and successful collaboration!

Whether to increase visibility, benefit from new references or grow revenues, working with a large group can be entirely valid for a budding company – as long as they’re well prepared!

And though setting out as a young entrepreneur to win over a major corporation is a complex venture, it’s also a chance to rise to the challenge and seize a great opportunity!

In this article, we’ve made a list of points to consider when approaching a major group, to help you build a healthy and effective collaboration.

1. Set clear objectives and communicate transparently

One of the first points to address before approaching a large group is strategy. As an entrepreneur, what expectations do you have of the collaboration?

Depending on the projected goal, your alliance with a major company can take on different forms:

  • a “client/supplier” type business relationship for the purpose of selling a service or product;
  • a more “experimental” relationship in which the stake is to test your services in a POC1 framework (proof of concept);
  • incubation: companies such as Vodafone, BGL, Société Générale and Credit Agricole offer dedicated spaces for boosting young businesses in Luxembourg;
  • a co-development project: many major groups decide to team up with startups to co-construct a project, where the goal is to capitalize on both parties’ resources;
  • a shared action: this type of partnership aims to boost notoriety and can take on different forms, including organizing an event or an awareness-raising action, etc.
  • lastly, you can also talk to a major group about taking over your company or the acquisitions of stakes.

This point essential consists of establishing whether or not a collaboration with a major group fits into your strategy, and what form it would likely take.

Do be aware that there is a culture gap between the expectations of major groups and those of budding businesses. That gap is in fact one of the main reasons startup-big group alliances fail. While large organizations hope to find inspiration, help their teams learn new working methods and instill long-term innovation, young companies are looking for funding and to grow their revenue on the short-term.

For your collaboration to be a success, you will have to establish a balanced and equally beneficial relationship for both parties. You will need to share a common vision and openly discuss each party’s expectations from the very beginning.

2. Target the right person

When the right people are involved, there’s a much better chance of a collaboration being a succeed. Depending on the desired purpose, you can put the odds in your favor for the get-go by getting in touch with the right person (use a variety of tools to get a grasp of each person’s role within the company and pinpoint who the decision-makers are: LinkedIn, team organization charts found on websites, etc.).

Capitalizing on your network, if you have a contact in a major corporation, can make it easier to get a meeting, and don’t forget to persevere!

Whatever the nature of the partnership, it’s a real plus to have the support of a member of the company’s executive committee. Beyond that and depending on the project at hand, you’ll need to convince operations teams (or any other team involved in the project). But when management is already on your side, it certainly makes the job easier.


3. Adapt your presentation

In order to work with a major group, you’ll first need to win them over. It’s essential to adapt your pitch to the nature of the desired partnership.

If you’re seeking funding, you’ll be interested to know that many large groups have investment funds, known as “corporate venture capital2” devoted to supporting promising startups. Every company has its own investment strategy. You’ll need to demonstrate the economic viability of your activity and the innovative aspect of what you’re offering, as well as “scalability3,” meaning your ability to adapt to strong growth in your activity and remain profitable.

If you hope to convince a major group to work in an experimental or business framework with you, the main question you will need to address is this: “Which concrete issues in the company/market does my solution/product respond to?”. The first time you meet, focus your presentation on tangible applications rather than a description of your solution or product.

Whatever your goal for the collaboration, adjust your pitch to both the specifics of the business segment and the profile of the person you’re meeting (profession, expertise, degree of technicality).

4. Identify procedures and organizational modes

Major groups often implement a variety of procedures for managing their activity.

When you’re beginning a collaboration, it’s best to look into the people you’re in contact with and the procedures associated with the departments with which you’re likely to interact: purchases, legal, IT, security, communications, HR, innovation, etc.

Understanding how a large group works shows your ability to adapt to its structure, values and rules.

5. Set a framework for your first project

All forms of collaboration require some framing, and especially when there are expectations of a deliverable. When a project is experimental, we advise making efforts to shed light on the following points:

  • the need(s) and precise use,
  • the expected deliverables,
  • the success criteria,
  • the allotted time,
  • the deadlines,
  • singing confidentiality agreements,
  • dedicated teams,
  • the final decision-maker(s),
  • the available budget for experimentation/the project and beyond (if the trial is successful, would the company be able to pay for your solution or product?).

Generally speaking, you need to think about the resources at your disposal (available time, financial resources). It can be an interesting exercise to put potential the costs and gains of the collaboration into perspective before making a decision.


6. Embrace uncertainty and keep an open mind

Even if your collaboration doesn’t balance out the way you imagine it today, think of everything you’ll take away from the partnership and what you could accomplish together in the future!

Capitalize on the contacts you’ll have made within the organization, and don’t be shy to have them hand along your name to other “services, departments, entities, partners, and clients of the company” who may be interested in what you’re offering.

Whether or not you’ve gotten what you hoped from your alliance with a major group, be sure to remember that a good network takes maintenance. So keep in touch, and keep thinking of new ways you could team up!

To conclude, a successful collaboration depends on your ability to develop win-win relationships!

Learn more :

1 : POC / 2 : corporate venture capital / 3 : scalability

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