Helping young businesses to create partnerships
Finding a partner can provide a big step forward for a Scaleup, but in a disruptive world it is like looking you-know-not-where for you-know-not-what. Mediators are few and far between, but Nesta has shown a way forward; and Accenture has been a pioneer. Incubators and their ilk need a wide range of contacts on hand if they are to help with partnering.
For a young business with the potential for high growth, a ride on a partner can clearly generate a big step forward. A defining feature of SMEs is their lack of resources, says the recent Barclays ScaleUp Report: they need to leverage external resources, for example by alliances with established companies – which can:
- help you develop your product
- introduce you to markets
- support you with funds and funding, and
- enhance the value of your business.
Unilever’s European Open Innovation Manager’s search for new supply chains for example, starts with entrepreneurs and IP, for which he then looks for development grants, and partners – like Siemens, Akzo Nobel, Croda or Syngenta, who will adopt and use the new technology in order to deliver product to Unilever.
Nesta, some time ago in an open innovation pilot, acted as intermediary for P&G by eliciting and selecting relevant ideas and then providing a period of support and development with the help of a VC and enabling the best to be pitched to P&G, one of which looked like a winner – a process of building up communication channels and developing trust, now run regularly by its creaters ‘100% Open’.
Nesta’s recent ‘Scaling Together’ Report (March 2016) contains 37 ‘tips for corporates’ on how to develop relationships with such young businesses, but not a single one for the latter – on how to find and work with a corporate. Except perhaps the briefest of stories about the good luck Bill Clee of Asset Mapping had when his endless networking efforts eventually led to his being offered a place by Cisco in incubator IdeaLondon.
The current tide of disruption suggests that potential partners are increasingly likely to be found in surprising places; and, unsurprisingly, intermediaries have played a part in recent examples – such as:
* Accenture’s Fintech Labs at Level39 (http://wp.me/p3beJt-3), where 8 to 10 young businesses are invited from all over the world to participate in an Accelerator development programme, sponsored by a dozen major banks, each of which provides a chaperone to introduce them to key individuals in their bank.
* Accenture’s latest version of the Accelerator Lab, (millenial20-20.com) launched with a razzmattaz of a major conference on the future of retailing, complete with a store of the future, where some eight innovative businesses were selected for eight weeks together at The Trampery co-working space in Shoreditch; and the dozen major retailers (Argos, Sainsbury’s, Kingfisher, Specsavers, Dixons/Carphone – among others) were invited to presentations and discussions with them over the period of their residency.
For Accenture these were experiments in creating processes that would support major changes in sectors, whether disruptions or major challenges.
Often a mentor with wide experience and a big address book is a valuable mediator (one mentor was able to suggest ten possible customers for the technology of a business he was mentoring!)
These stories highlight the importance for incubators of having well oiled contacts with corporates that are on the look-out for entrepreneurs and IP, where partnerships might generate highly productive alliances for growth.
Dreamstake (http://wp.me/p3beJt-6H), online home to more than 15,000 young businesses of which 2,000 are technology based, now offers access to 50 VCs, 800 technology angel investors and to top influencers in the London technology scene as well as to successful founders in Silicon Valley – through its DreamLab Ventures initiative. But most incubators offer little more than office or desk space.
John Whatmore, October 2016