The next part of our series on the Startup-Corporate Collaboration Survey with Maki.vc dives into the corporate experience and how to follow through. We interviewed Antti Vuolli, Head of New Digital Business and Startups at Stora Enso, to dissect the results.
In the previous entries of this series, we have explored the results of the survey in general and reflected them against our experiences at Foundry in another entry. Our friends at Maki.vc have done the same in their entries here, here, and here.
New Ways of Working for Creating New Business
Many differences arose between answers from startup and corporate representatives. One of the most notable figures was 51% saying their primary goal for working with startups was to learn new ways of working. This was sharply contrasted against the motivation for new sources of revenue, preferred by the startup respondents.
“I don’t find this too surprising,” Antti analyzes. “Already the setting, by working with another party and doing it with open innovation, is what I feel our teams are most satisfied with.”
Open innovation, of course, means opening up one’s technology and capabilities to a startup partner, and co-creating new solutions with their combined expertise. Antti and his team are the authority on this at Stora Enso. They work with Combient Foundry to jointly develop an approach to startup collaboration. One of their tasks is developing the Combient Foundry Venture Client Opportunities with Stora Enso’s different business units.
Antti says that on top of his team even these business units have come to know of the benefits of working with startups in new ways. The most validating result has been the new business flowing to startups working with Stora Enso’s teams. Also, as time has rolled on, a lot of this has stacked up too.
One case which has best exemplified the success for Stora Enso is their ongoing collaboration with Portuguese planet intelligence company 20tree.ai. You can read more about their partnership in our blog and on Combient’s homepage.
Finding a Common Approach
Talk to a founder anywhere in the world and they will usually tell you the same thing: working with large corporations is not easy. This might be reflected in our survey results, where 65% of startup respondents agree to some degree that their company struggles in working with large, multilayered organizations.
Antti understands the sentiment and has an idea of what motivates it. Obviously, everyone working in their field wants to work with others and achieve great results together. To get to this point, however, it comes down to how much time people are able to give to achieving these results. More so than any other variable.
“When the project gets that time investment, it is no longer a matter of other resources,” Antti says.
To manage time better, Stora Enso works with startups in sprints. Just like many startups themselves on any given project. As the budget has been secured ahead of the cycle, the final go-ahead can be agreed upon faster when getting started.
“In our projects, transparency between the partners is crucial,” Antti continues. “For each one, we sync activities for the duration of a sprint. We agree on clear objectives and proceed for one to two weeks at a time. Also, we have agreed with Sourcing to fast track startup and growth company engagement.”
It is easy to dismiss large corporate players for their focus on the broad strokes of their fields. That is what they do, their business has been around for decades and they find scale in delivering solutions that fit a massive majority of B2B clients. What we cannot forget, however, is that lean and agile methods first gained traction in large corporations, such as Toyota.
The methods were tested and found to work in exactly these environments, and they have since spread out from there. The common language and purpose between the two players exist. Both sides just need to remember to dig it out where it matters.
Three More Tips from Foundry on Nurturing your Startup Partnership
Be serious about the startups’ (and your own) time
This starts from something as obvious as setting aside effective working time in your team members’ calendars to make sure the personal commitment is there to follow through a pilot project. Yet, thinking this through has a lot of implications down the line: basically, it is asking all parties to know what they are getting into, what is required of them, and what the critical resources for success are in a given project. Also, once you know what you’re getting into at the beginning, it will make adjustments along the way easier to prioritise and decide on.
Uphold transparency throughout
Even after you have decided your common KPIs at the bargaining table, stick to monitoring them not just internally, but together with your partner. Combient Foundry has always believed and proven together with Stora Enso on many occasions that the most fruitful collaboration is long-term. Even if you are working on a week-to-month-long proof-of-concept, think about it as a relationship builder for the next innovative breakthrough.
Respond to new situations without delay
Once those reporting and monitoring results come in, and you know what your timeframe for the whole endeavour is, respond to the situation accordingly and without delay. Cut the pilot short if the tech requires more testing or if it could be deployed ahead of schedule. Startup teams don’t waste time; by being attentive, your corporation will also reap the benefits of their success and ways of working.
You can read more about Antti’s team’s work here.