Posted by & filed under Innovation, Organizational learning, Product development.

It is hard to think of a better time to be a bank, insurance company or other corporation who wants to work with startups. Over the past years, companies specializing in organizing hackathons, incubators, accelerators or any other kind of startup related programs and services have sprung up like mushrooms. And that’s why regardless if it is the first time an organization is embarking on the journey to work with startups or already have well-established systems and processes, they can easily find whatever help they need.

At the same time, there are so many players that finding the partner (or partners) for your organization and your specific goals is definitely not the easiest task. And that is why we created this guide to help you find the right partner for you.

While I would love to just say ”choose Nestholma” and be done with it, that unfortunately is not what the reality is. We have our specialties where we excel, as do all the other players in the startup collaboration world. And who the right one is for you, depends, surprise surprise, on you. And that is why you first need to look inside to find the right partner from the outside.

What do you want to achieve by working with startups?

There are many motivations to work with startups. Maybe it’s for internal or external branding, finding new innovations, for learning from startups and changing your organization or something completely different. None of them are necessarily better or worse than the others, as long as it is clear why exactly do you want to work with startups.

There is no point in just getting sucked into the startup hype and start doing startup stuff just because it is cool and everyone else is doing it. You need to establish clear goals, only then you can succeed and make the efforts worth it.

The clearer the goal(s) is the easier it is to create the concrete steps to achieve that, and also to measure the results afterward and find out which areas need improvement. Having clear goals also helps you be realistic about what you can achieve now and what you can achieve a bit later. This will also affect the method of collaborating with startups. For example, doing a hackathon can be a great first step into working with startups for one organization, but not for an organization who is looking to make their whole organization more innovative by learning from working with startups.

What kind of capabilities you already have in-house?

Different organizations have different knowledge and experience of working with startups. And differences also on their preferences to do things in-house or outsource everything, or something in between.

One might have great systems in place for working with startups, but have difficulties finding the right kind of startups. Another one might find great startups but getting the deals done and getting to the actual collaboration is bumpy and takes a really long time. And another one might have no clue where to even start and would need help with everything from finding the startups to preparing their organization to work with startups, and then actually working with the startups.

What do you want to do yourself, what do you want to outsource?

That is you should think about what kind of capabilities and resources you have now. And think about the long-term: What do you want to outsource, what do you want to keep or have in-house. Is there anything you don’t know how to do now, but would like to do yourself in the future. Or are there areas that you are doing now but that are not part of your core and it would be better if someone else would do them instead?

To give an example, we have done programs where we have taken care of the whole package, but also supported our partner’s own programs or continuous work with startups, and helped in the area they needed help and that was in our core. There is plenty of possible partners available for every part of working with collaboration. You just need to know what you are looking for.

The above might sound easier said than done, and truthfully evaluating your own organization can be difficult, especially if you aren’t so familiar with what you could get from working with startups and/or what really is required to reach that goal. Luckily there is plenty of help available. And that is why also we have been and are offering free (and I probably should to add: no strings attached) 45-minute consultations precisely for this.

When you have figured out what your goals are and where you need help to reach them, it is time to look at the potential partners in that area.

What is their specialty? Do they fit in with your existing activities and partners?

If you are looking for someone to make your startup program international, find specific kind of startups, help you make your own organization more agile, or someone to speed up the deal-making and collaboration with the startups, you naturally, should go for the one that specializes in that.

But you should also take into consideration how well that partner understands your organization and its specific needs, and fits in with your already existing startup systems and activities and/or possible partners. Don’t just choose the one whose office is the closest to you or who has the biggest brand name. Shop around and find the best fit for you and your needs.

How well do they understand startups? How about corporations?

There are companies that are for example amazing at helping startups grow, but have either no or only superficial understanding on how corporations work. At the same time, there are also companies whose business is corporations and have just now started also offering startup services. But ideally you would have a partner(s) that understand the both, or at minimum have someone else who helps join the two worlds.

If you have never worked with startups, it is most likely going to be very different than working with your regular suppliers. There are many benefits to that (e.g. the possibility to learn from startups and become more agile and innovative that way), but there are also difficulties. The corporate world and startup world truly are different, often in the opposite ways in the key areas. And fitting the two together is often not the easiest thing to do. Just look at how long it takes to get from the first meeting to getting the deal done, let alone to actual work.

That is why it is good to have a partner that understands both worlds, their differences, possible difficulties but also opportunities. Perhaps it is the partner that takes care of everything or someone who specializes in the collaboration who works together with your other startup partner(s) / startup team. We, for example, have done both.

Do they have industry-specific knowledge?

Different industries have different challenges and also opportunities. Ideally, your partners understand the unique circumstances you operate in. That helps them understand better the circumstances that you work in, the challenges but also the opportunities that rise from there.

For example, our specialty is the financial industry, especially banks and insurance companies. We understand the legal framework, the market, what happens inside the organizations, and the unique issues all this creates for banks and insurance companies. With focus financial industry, our offering for startups is also better, and in turn, that helps us offer our banks and insurance partners better startups. Of course, we are always open to help organizations from any industry, but finance is where we can have the biggest impact.

Whichever your industry is, try to find partners that truly understand it, even specialize in it.

Are they a local player or a global player?

Unless you have a specific reason for only looking for startups locally, look for a partner(s) that is experienced in working with international startups and have global reach to startups all over the world. This is especially important if you are looking for help in getting great startups and innovations through with your partners help.

The simple reason for this is that innovations are global. You never know where the most suitable solution for your organization and customers come from. Surely, finding good startups far away from your home turf, might not be the easiest of things. And it often isn’t. But it is usually worth it.

For example, some of our customers have had challenges expanding their programs internationally, and we have helped them get applications and then startups from all over the world.

Whether your ideal partner is us or not, I strongly recommend aiming to make your startup collaboration efforts international. Or if you do decide to go with your local startups, make sure it is a conscious decision and not just something that happened.

Can you trust them with your core? How about the startups?

When you have a partner helping your work with startups, they will get a look inside the startups but also inside you. Are they people who you are comfortable knowing the intimate areas of your organization? And even helping you improve those areas?

Another thing is, how do you know your partner has your best interest in their mind? And how do the startups know the partner has their best interest in mind? Your partner has an important role in making your collaboration smoother, and to do that they need to have both your AND the startups complete trust. Only then it is clear that the advice the partner is giving isn’t just because they are being paid by the other party, but because they truly believe that is the best thing for the startup or your organization to do.

This is something that has come up ever often in our work, especially from the startups’ side. They know that the bank or insurance company is our customer and we have their interests in our mind. But as we invest in the startups and will be working with them also after that specific collaboration program, they know we equally have the startups’ interests in mind. The bank also knows that we are committed to supporting the startups in the long term, which in turn helps them work with the startups as they know they won’t just all of a sudden disappear.

Check their references

I am not going to say companies lie (while of course scammers also exist), but you should always check that the potential partner has actually done what they claim, that they really are as experienced in the area as they say they are. And that they have actually brought the kind of results they claim they do. Ask for references from their previous customers and have a proper chat with those references.

This is especially important when you are looking for a partner for any area of working with startups that goes beyond the superficial. Then your partner will also get a view of also the not-so-glorious parts of your operations and organization, and you don’t want someone who just says they are good to get to your most intimate areas.

Finding the right partner to aid you in your startup collaboration might not be the easiest task considering the number of options there are nowadays. We are spoilt with options to the point of having too many of them. But too many options is still better than too few, don’t you think? Hopefully, this guide helps you find the best partner for your needs.

If you want to get a more comprehensive guide on what you can achieve by working with startups, the different ways of collaborating and also more about choosing the right partner to help you, check out our free ebook here.