10 Tips for Startups When Doing Business with Corporates

Our team shared insights on startup-corporate collaboration at a session held at the Malmö’s incubator Minc last week.

With experience from more than 5000 tailored matchmaking meetings and over 350 collaborations between startups and corporates, we at Ignite have profound knowledge of how to succeed in these commercial partnerships.

During the session at Minc held last week, our colleagues Sara Hamlin (Head of Corporate Relations), Cathrin Johansson (Head of Startup Relations) and Linn Sidahl (Project Manager Matchmaking), together with Minc’s Head of Sustainability Karin Lindrup, shared their key learnings on startup-corporate collaborations.

These are their best tips for startups when doing business with corporates:

  1. Set clear goals in your commercialization strategy. Define who your dream customers are and research which are the biggest players in your field. It is also important that you talk to more than one corporate as many established companies will need time to create the processes to work with you, so don’t be reliant on a sole customer.
  2. Have a long-term perspective as well as a short-term one. No business can grow only by doing short-term pilots. It can be uncomfortable but important to be frank with corporates about what you want/need in the long term. Ask the corporate if they would buy your product in the future and become a long-term customer. 
  3. Take the right time to prepare for your meeting. We suggest startups take about 2 hours when you meet your first potential customers through Ignite. Once you get more experience and you are used to the format, as little as half an hour per potential customer will be enough. At Ignite we also provide you with tools and coaching for best preparing for your meetings.
  4. Prepare to meet potential customers, not investors. Startups are more used to pitching to potential investors than meeting potential customers. Make sure to tailor your company profile on our platform Ignite Magic as well as your pitch deck to work for customers rather than just investors. This is new for some corporates as well. While many have investment departments, some are still working towards a more collaborative mindset. Despite these differences, Ignite always ensures that all corporates you will meet through us have the mandate and budget to work with startups. These meetings are ‘not just for fun,’ there should be a clear business case.
  5. The corporates are also happy they get the chance to meet you. It is not just you that should be glad for this opportunity. Corporates have chosen you from a longer list of startups presented to them by our team when you are matched with them through Ignite. Going into the meeting with this knowledge allows you to dive deeper into their needs in a shorter amount of time.
  6. Be clear about how long you mean when you set a timeframe. One of the most common frustrations is the difference in time perception. It is essential to set expectations and avoid terms like ‘soon’ which could be easily misinterpreted (soon to a startup could be tomorrow while a corporate is thinking 6 months). A suggestion is to already schedule a follow-up meeting at the end of the first meeting or at the very least, provide a set timeframe to get into contact with each other (i.e within 2 weeks). 
  7. Learn from the meetings that don’t lead to further conversations. Unfortunately, some meetings won’t lead to a collaboration or a follow-up meeting. The no’s you get can be as important as the yes’s. If multiple companies suggest pivoting or using technology in a certain way this can be a strong indication of a good market opportunity.
  8. Understand that the corporates’ internal processes might take longer than you expect. The corporates, like the startups, are all at different stages when it comes to working with startups. Some already have clear processes in place while others are still establishing them. They are used to spending money internally for R&D but less used to doing this externally. There are many challenges that they need to overcome regarding legal, technology, etc. that must be dealt with internally before they can effectively work with startups and this process can take time. It will take time for corporates to change their internal mindset and budget models.
  9. Be explorative and experiment together. You don’t have to start with something huge and long-term. A pilot can mean different things and it can be developed from what stage you are at. Many corporates want to meet with early-stage startups so they can develop something together, while others are looking for late-stage solutions. Smaller, short-term collaborations can allow you to scale together. Many of the Swedish corporates you can be matched with through Ignite are large global companies and scaling with them means that you can scale globally with a local company.
  10. Last but not least, don’t forget to tell your investors that you are in negotiations with potential customers. Having a track record with customers can add a lot of value in the eyes of investors.

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