Fostering Collaboration Between Startups and Corporations in the Triangle


A recent HBR article states, “Since 2013, the number of corporate investments in startups has nearly tripled from 980 in 2013 to 2,795 in 2018, and their value has risen from $19 to $180 billion, according to GCV Analytics, a company that tracks corporate venturing deals”. … Yet the success rate of these initiatives is low, with some “three quarters of corporate innovation initiatives failing to deliver the desired results.”

Recognizing this and looking to address the matter head-on, Innovate Raleigh, in partnership with the Startup Summit, hosted the May 30 conference called “Fostering Collaboration between Startups and Corporations in the Triangle.” The Conference featured keynote speakers, panel discussions with leading startups and corporations in RTP, along with demo tables from innovative supporters.

With a room that was filled with start-up minded individuals, the goal of the conference was to strengthen the startup ecosystem and help more corporations and startups work together to expand new business opportunities in the Triangle Region. This is especially important as the Raleigh-Durham area continues to attract attention as a nucleus for tech activity and talent.

·       David Gardner, a serial entrepreneur and early-stage fund manager with over thirty years of experience in creating and building software technology companies was one of the keynote speakers. “It is arrogant and perilous for corporations not to regularly engage with startups,” said David.

·       Moreover, when Mark Bavisotto, the founder of Startup Summit, “looked around at the Triangle and compared it to other major startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Austin, he found one thing was sorely lacking: collaboration between startups and corporations.” Startup Summit tries to bridge that gap through a learning platform that brings together entrepreneurs seeking advice, proven strategies, and connections to help grow their business. 

Fostering Collaboration Between Startups and Corporations Begins with Some Basics:

Focus. Learn. Listen. Learn. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

1.    Appreciate the corporate politics, the structure, and the benchmarks for measuring success. Without those insights, the start-up founder can easily be using Martian-speak with the prospective corporate partner.

2.    Appreciate the nuances of the startup’s offer: New Products, New Technologies, and Beta Customers. Many startups bring unfamiliar ideas, while others bring a well-formed concept. Corporate staff needs to become more comfortable with the unfamiliar.

Focus. Learn. Listen. Learn. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

3.    Do not stop questioning what you do, how you do it, and how easily someone else could do it better. Andy Grove’s book: “Only the Paranoid Survive,” asks the corporate leadership to consider what sort of company they would create if their task was to put their current company out of business. Within this framework, Startup Summit and Innovate Raleigh asks corporate leaders to listen to the ideas presented by the startup founders.

4.    Read the proposal and accept the meeting: A panel of startup founders stressed the persistence needed to navigate the corporate structure, executive assistants, the voice mails and the unreturned calls. Day after day, successful startup founders made those calls and left countless messages. Inherent in this effort was both unrelenting persistence and “the art of subtle influence. (We will save that conversation for another time.)

Focus. Learn. Listen. Learn. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

5.    Reciprocal Privileges: Oracle spoke about offering their products on the open market for no charge. With no financial or accessibility barriers, the crowd-sourcing platform creates a feedback loop, with enormous learning opportunities, for all in the ecosystem.

6.    Maximize the Synergy: Instead of making a seven-figure investment in an attractive startup, one corporation looked for opportunities to mentor and nurture the startup in ways that could support the investment with greater confidence. While the investment came later than originally wanted, the longer-term opportunity was far more attractive for both sides of the investment.

A similar sentiment was shared about keynote speaker Anil Chawla from Archive Social. Having just secured a $53 million investment, it is not surprising that early articles spoke about Anil as smart, coach-able, and able to articulate a vision. He learned that “Too many first-time CEOs are spending their time acting like chief fundraisers rather than chief developers or chief sales people. It’s critical to create your own traction first.”

Focus. Learn. Listen. Learn. Listen. Learn. Repeat.

In closing, the Fostering Collaboration between Startups and Corporations in the Triangle conference stressed a need to reflect on the fundamental discipline of communications. As corporations and startups spend more time together, the established corporations may need to “unlearn” some of the habits that worked for them in the past. In turn, there will be the opening up of new channels for co-mentoring as well as the identification of alternative approaches to creating successful entrepreneurial ventures. The more familiar the players become with each other, the stronger the chances of successful, effective collaboration.


BYLINE: Sharon Lewis helps clients gain customer insights through qualitative research that uncovers differentiating opportunities for customer engagement. She believes that learning opportunities are everywhere, and that only one’s imagination limits the transferability of best practices across industries and cultures. The integration of her experiences across the retail, financial services, healthcare and non-profit sectors provides acumen for this diverse perspective. Follow her @sharonlewisnyc