Posted by & filed under Accelerator, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Mentoring, Startups.

Most collaboration between startups and corporations shows very little results. The reason is that they are just trying to improve bits and pieces of, for example, the offering. That’s not enough. The winners will be the ones that can renew their attitude, learn to adapt and embrace the change. Startup collaboration is the best tool for that, but it needs to be done right.

Startup collaboration is not an innovation band-aid

Startups are not innovation band-aidMany corporations still try to filter out the perfect startup candidates before starting to work with them. They usually end up with companies that have a product that can be easily integrated with the current offering. Good for them if they can provide something useful for their customers, but that approach rarely ends up in changing anything. It usually just turns into an incremental improvement.

It doesn’t help you if you do the same thing a bit better than before. Not when in most industries you don’t know how your business will look like in just a few years. Corporations need to break the familiar ways of doing things, break the patterns to get ready for the unknown. Companies need to build skills to be ready for the future. The old skills may not become obsolete, but everyone needs to find new ways of using the old skills in new environments. We need to be experts at finding new uses for the things we’re good at. We also need to become experts in the new things that are needed to solve our customers problems.

While startups can learn a lot from corporations, also the startups can teach the corporations many things. So, why do many corporations go only for the incremental improvements and one-by-one collaboration with startups? Because this way fits their existing way of working. They have used subcontractors and other types of partner forever and startups are no different. Corporations are really good at buying products and services. They have developed efficient procurement models and processes that they want to use also with startups. But that is not enough. In fact, I think that this way of working totally misses the point and the big opportunity.

Turning from individual innovation partnerships to powering the renewal at corporations

Nestholma started with the idea of helping startups and corporations to build new innovations and make deals together. In our accelerator model, we make the startups and corporation work together with clear business goals in mind. That has worked really well in the 20 accelerators we’ve done. Still, over the past two years, we’ve realized that it’s much more than making a few deals happen or arranging a great Demo Day pitching events.

Couple of interesting things have happened: HRD and entreprenership

To make the impact of the accelerators as big as possible, we’ve ended up coaching not just the startups and also the corporation’s employees. Regardless if you talk in the context of change management or broader transformation, our work has been more and more about helping the employees to learn from the startups. This has helped them to become better at facing whatever challenge may lie ahead of them.

Many times the management is a bit worried that the employees may not have enough time to work with the startups. Our experience is that the employees love to work with the startups and find the time if there’s good support for them. Also, we’ve found that it’s not just the innovation people, but everyone in the organization that wants to join from customer care to sales and tech. After working with startups many corporate employees have told us that the work with startups has given them new boost on working with the other things, as well.

The other interesting thing has been the work we’ve done for the ex-employees of Microsoft and Nokia. These companies have laid-off thousands of employees in Finland over the past couple of years. As a Finnish company we wanted to see if we could use our business coaching and accelerator model to help them to find their new path in life as entrepreneurs. In great co-operation with both Microsoft and Nokia, we’ve coached hundreds of ex-employees from these companies. Some have become entrepreneurs, some have gone to work in small companies and some are just using the entrepreneurial mindset to pursue whatever else they want in life (read more in Finnish). Not everyone has ended up being a growth company entrepreneur, but we have found it important give back a little by using our expertise to help them.

Nestholma's startup accelerator and entrepreneurship coaching model.

Business leadership and HR can drive the change with startups

Still, what started out as an interesting experiment and an effort to share our knowledge, turned out to be one of the biggest learnings for Nestholma. This experience in coaching the entrepreneurs has helped us to develop a deep understanding on how to help also the employees still working inside a corporation to change. In fact, we find ourselves increasingly in the same tables with the business leadership and HR. They want concrete business results fast, but they also want to make sure it’s not just what I sometimes call an innovation band-aid. They want to see sustainable impact in the entire organization and business as well as sustainable renewal of the company.

Business leadership and HR want to make sure the entire company is able to quickly

  • adapt to new market conditions
  • find out what are the problems worth solving
  • learn new skills while they are working
  • move effortlessly between different types of internal and external operational models (startups, internal ventures, line organization etc.)
  • reinvigorate the employees to pursue new paths in their personal professional growth
  • turn high level strategic goals into real business initiatives

And we’re very happy to be there. With our two-part accelerator and entrepreneurship coaching model, we can provide the tools to tackle these needs and more. The great thing is that this is also the best way to help the startups learn and succeed.

Topi Järvinen @topij

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Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Mentoring, Startups.

As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably been mingling in startup events. You have probably met knowledgeable people, with experience in areas where you and your team are quite lost. And you should take every chance to talk to them. Many of those events — or accelerators, or incubators — call such people ‘mentors’. They are likely to share with you their opinions on your ideas, as well as give you interesting tips.

But tips are… well, the tip of the iceberg (sorry for the terrible pun). Tweet this. They might be missing context information about your business. They might not know about your market. They might not understand your idea, maybe even because you don’t understand it. Or you might just not have the time to get into the juicy details.
We believe that mentoring shouldn’t stop there. Tweet about this!

You need to build a relationship

It’s much more valuable for both sides — the mentor and the startup — to have a longer discussion, where both sides have something at stake. This makes sure that the mentor understands well the startup. It gives the mentor a reason to look more into the specific market or business of the startup. It gives the startup the chance of knowing the rationale behind the mentor’s thinking, and when and how to apply it to their business.

Of course, our mentors also attend events to meet the startups, but that is often only the beginning of a relationship. At the end of the day, for entrepreneurs, it also pays off to go beyond one-night-stands with some people.

 

When we match startups and mentors, we try to make sure that both of them will benefit, one way or another. And that requires knowing their needs and motivations very well. They typically discuss a few times about the startup’s business, to see of they are a good match. At the end of the day, with a good advisor, you want to make sure that there is some “chemistry” between you. Tweet this.

At that point, both have gotten a bit better, but there’s still a long road to go.

You need to make it stick

If you really want a mentor to contribute to your startup, you need to be serious about it. If you’re asking the person to give you tips every now and then, it will stay like that: tips every now and then. That means that the entrepreneur is treating mentoring as a hobby. Even if the mentor is happy to do that for a while, on a midterm they’re likely to find another hobby.

If you want to be high on the mentor’s priority list, you need to make the mentor be an extension of your team: an advisor. Tweet this.

Our expectation when we match startups and mentors is that, if things work out, the mentor becomes an advisor of the startup. They explicitly discuss how much dedication the mentor will have: it can range from a meeting per month to having a secondary role in the company.

They also explicitly discuss a compensation, e.g. a percentage of shares of the company, provided the advisor stays with the company for a number of years. It’s important to find a level in which both parts feel that the compensation is fair and that the relationship could go on indefinitely. You want to make sure that if the company wins, everybody involved wins as well. Tweet this.

You need to know what you’re getting

Advisors can be very different to each other. There are several roles that they can take. Advisors can be:

  • Great coaches for the founder team, and making them think about the right things. Tweet this. They will make use of their experience to make sure you are considering the right factors, but they will not push you in any particular direction. They are likely to focus on your development — as an entrepreneur or as company — instead of the direction that you’re taking.
  • Great sounding boards: you can tell them what your plans and ideas are, and they will give you a reality check based on their experience and industry knowledge. Tweet this. Everybody believes their own ideas, sometimes you need somebody else to confirm or defy your thoughts.
  • Great door openers. One thing you need in a startup is contacts, and some people are particularly gifted at connecting you to the relevant people. Tweet this. It might be potential customers, it might be companies that can help you grow, or it might be people that you don’t know yet how they will help you.
  • Investors in the company. And some of them help you in funding rounds later on. In any case, some advisors are particularly useful for you to find resources for your startup.

 

Most of them end up being some combination of all of those. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand the value that different advisors are bringing (and to look for the right ones). At the end of the day, your advisor is part of your extended team, and that’s one of the most important success factors in a startup.

In short, the best mentors are the ones that will become advisors of your startup if things go right. Tweet this.

Dr. Daniel Collado-Ruiz, @ErCollao

Do you like the content? Do you disagree? Are you interested in hearing more about other related stuff? Drop us a line in the comments or on twitter, and let’s chat!

 

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