Follow these eight steps for making the most of your collaboration projects with public organizations and corporations.

Pilots are an agile way of working, which allows customers to test a solution with a startup in several small steps. This not only allows the customer to evaluate the solution, but also to build a relationship with the startup.

For startups, it is an opportunity to verify the market and adapt their product or service to the needs of corporates or public organizations. But what makes a good pilot?

These are eight conditions a pilot needs to fulfill to be successful:

1. Clear goals: Define what you want to achieve, set realistic goals, and establish a plan for implementation, including the expected outcomes and timeline. What problems should the pilot solve? Which aspects are most important to test?

2. Easy to start: Outline a first pilot that can be implemented quickly and easily, without excessive investment from either the purchaser or you as a startup. What is the minutest conceivable scope, site and/or amount of users you could experiment with?

3. Mandate and budget secured: Ensure that there is a mandate and budget to implement the pilot project, or that these can be created immediately.

4. Pilot owners and team ready: Define the roles, responsibilities, and ownership of the pilot. Identify the people who should be involved in the process. Is the pilot backed by everyone in the purchaser’s organization who will be involved? Is there a dialogue about structure/data management, IT, etc.?

5. Procurement involved: Procurement is essential when collaborating with the public sector. It is important to read up on procurement in general, as well as the purchaser’s specific procurement policy. Be sure to review any references, documents, etc. that the customer may request. It is key to document everything in order to disseminate the results and use them for future procurement, in case the project is scaled up.

6. Easy to measure and evaluate: Lower complexity makes it easier to measure and evaluate the examined element. Define which aspects you want to test and the parameters you want to measure. How can the benefits be gauged? How is the pilot evaluated?

7. Learnings for the next step: Think about how you will use the information that comes out of the pilot. What information and answers do you want to get quickly? During the pilot process, you can learn how your product meets the needs of the market, what is lacking, and what needs to be developed. You can gain an increased understanding of what creates value and how you can develop to better suit the customer’s needs.

8. Scaling up: It is important to ensure the pilot can be scaled up if it yields positive results. What should your next pilot be? Is it possible to scale up this pilot immediately? Which other areas can benefit from the pilot?

Find these tips and other important information in Pilots as a Strategic Tool for Innovation, a guide for startups on how to effectively collaborate with public organizations.

Click here to download the Swedish version of the guide

Click here to download the English version of the guide

Our colleague Linn Sidahl shares insights from her visit to the world’s leading startup event in November.

Slush 2022 in Helsinki, Finland, brought together over 12,000 people from around the world to discuss the latest trends in the startup industry.

“You really feel the power of innovation at an event like this that brings together all the different actors within the innovation ecosystem. Not only does it provide energy, but it also fosters the emergence of new ideas for collaborations when so many startup enthusiasts are gathered under the same roof. It’s clear that innovation is key to making a difference, and the way to it spells collaboration,” says Ignite’s Project Manager Matchmaking, Linn Sidahl.

Among her highlights of the event, she mentions Ignite participating startup YOUR BEET pitching at Slush 100 competition.

“It was also cool to see Linnea Kronehed from the Swedish freight technology company Einride on the big stage,” says Linn.

Lastly, Linn believes it would have been beneficial to have a Swedish booth at the event gathering the entire startup community, similar to other countries.

“It would be amazing if we could collaborate and create a dedicated space to showcase Swedish startups at this huge event. This will give them even more exposure and recognition,” she concludes.

Our Innovation Leader Linus Arnold shares his key recommendations for corporates looking to collaborate with startups.

Working with startups can bring immense value to corporates but there is a series of internal processes that should be followed to ensure fruitful collaborations for both parties.

Here are Ignite’s Innovation Leader Linus Arnold’s top three tips for corporates to succeed in their startup collaborations.

1. Set an external innovation strategy that includes startup collaborations

“Many corporates lack an overall innovation strategy. They have an R&D strategy, but they don’t have a clear strategy that covers the different methods of reaching their innovation targets, including startup collaborations,” says Linus.

Linus highlights the importance of listing innovation targets and defining whether they will be addressed through internal or external innovation.

“Corporates cannot afford not to explore startup collaborations. Prominent startups have the resources to solve specific industrial problems. Corporates have many challenges to address that they need to prioritize. Identifying, evaluating and integrating startups’ innovation is a cost-efficient way to implement solutions that otherwise would have taken years to achieve,” says Linus

It is difficult for any big organization that does not have any experience working with startups to suddenly change and test startup innovations without a strategy supporting the process.

“There should be a predefined process for what should be done after meeting a good startup and how to proceed from the first meeting to actually testing their solution and then integrating and deploying it,” explains Linus.

2. Think beyond product innovation

Most corporates naturally focus on improving their products when working with innovation. An excellent product is in many industries a baseline for staying competitive. However, applying innovation to other processes within the organization, where it also can be easier to test, evaluate and integrate external solutions, can add immense value and efficiency to a corporate.

“It’s important to look beyond product innovation into other areas that could have a positive impact on your business. These areas could include predictive maintenance, logistics, or anything else where it is easier to align the right people and create the structures necessary for finding and testing startup innovations. This will also generate great value for the startup,” explains Linus.

3. Ensure internal alignment

“One common mistake many corporations make is not to have internal alignment when you start this process, so you have people within the organization trying to convince others internally in order to make things happen. It takes a long time to decide whether the startup is a good fit or not. So not only do you need to have a process in place but also define the departments within your organization that will assess and evaluate the startup and take the decisions of going further with a collaboration,” says Linus.

He also explains that it is a risk if only one person within the company is doing all the interface with the startups.

“I think there should be a team working together with the startup to ensure they bring in the right need owners at the right time from internal planning”.

Finally, he advises innovation teams to take the ISO certification 56002 on Innovation Management.

“This certification will ensure that every person in the team uses the same language internally and understands how to work with innovation management not only generally but also when it comes to collaborating with startups,” he concludes.

Got a match through Ignite? Our Branding & Content Marketing Coach, Carin Lagerstedt, has some key tips to help startups both during and after the meeting.

This is the second article in this series. Find some fantastic ways to increase your chances of getting a match here.

Ignite’s method can be compared to a curated speed-dating that makes it simple for corporates and public sector to discover relevant startups to help solve their challenges. Our 20 minute meeting format facilitates an initial opportunity for both parties to get to know each other, understand the startup’s offering and corporate’s challenge to then mutually explore if there is potential for a business relationship.

Below Ignite’s Branding & Content Marketing Coach, Carin Lagerstedt, offers some things to consider when you work on your material to support you during and after the meeting with a corporate.

1. Tell a story and use visual aids

After a quick introduction, the startup should ideally take some 3-4 minutes to introduce and contextualize their solution (i.e. explain why you do what you do and for whom it matters).

It is important to consider:

2. Keep your presentation short and focus on having a conversation

The Ignite method suggests ending the pitch with what you want out of a collaboration (i.e. customers to test the product, studies, early adopters, etc). The end of your pitch should make the corporate consider how and where their goals and ambitions could fit in with yours.

The goal is to begin a relevant conversation for mutual future benefit of all participants. Ensure that you have prepared a few open questions to encourage the corporate/public sector organization to open up about what is important to them and where they see potential for your solution within their business.

3. Provide relevant support material for your match’s internal contacts

The information you send after your matchmaking meeting should ideally facilitate an internal discussion within the corporate or public organization.

It is common for up to seven people to be involved in all B2B purchase decisions – but you will likely meet less than half of them. Therefore, the material you send should be short and easily digestible (try to fit it into the equivalent of two A4 pages).

The people who weren’t in the initial meeting will not appreciate a 20+ page PDF presentation and your ambassador/key stakeholder will not have time to go through it with them. Instead, ensure the material both introduces you and provides facts and frameworks about how your solutions can be used. The content helps everyone involved to be on the same page so that they can discuss and try and apply your offering to their business needs.

About Carin Lagerstedt

Carin Lagerstedt is Ignite’s Branding & Content Marketing Coach. She is experienced in branding and B2B marketing within technical and industrial solutions in both larger corporations and startups. Carin has a track record in enabling efficient sales growth with digital content marketing, whilst building a strong brand with a thought leadership position in the process.

Ignite Public’s Mikaela Färnqvist and Marit Finch-Westin share the steps public organizations should follow to ensure startup meetings lead to successful pilots.

Ignite Public Process Leaders Mikaela Färnqvist and Marit Finch-Westin have been matching public sector organizations with innovative startups for the past three years. During this time, they have amassed immense knowledge on how procuring organizations can effectively work together with startups.

According to them, the key to successful pilots lies in the process conducted prior to meeting startups. This process includes ensuring organizations have a mandate, budget and backing at the management and operational levels., as well as the ability to identify, map and prioritize their needs before any meeting.

Here are the ten things any public organization or agency should consider before the initial meeting with a startup

1. Backing and mandate: It is important that the people involved have the authority to run the process internally and carry out a pilot. Has the organization worked with a startup previously? Is this way of working established within the organization? Also evaluate how the delegation order/decision path looks like. Is approval required to carry out a pilot? Who can make budgetary decisions in this area, and for how much?

2. Needs based: Start from the needs analysis and focus on needs (what) without getting stuck on solutions (how). Is the need established and backed with a desire to scale up?

3. In line with the strategy: Consider if there is a strategic framework that supports working with the identified needs.

4. Needs owners: Determine who needs to be involved in this process, both formally and from a practical implementation perspective. Who owns the need (mandate) and what skills/expertise need to be included in the match?

5. Degree of maturity working with startups: Define how mature you are as a purchaser when it comes to working with startups. If you don’t have much experience with this, you may need more dialogue with the suppliers. More people might need to be involved in the matchmaking meeting, not only to ensure the right skills and expertise but also for internal learning purposes.

6. Internal understanding of the process: Evaluate if you need to provide training for participants to clarify the objective of the Ignite Process. What do you want to achieve with their participation?

7. End-in-mind: Think about if you already have an idea of what you want to test and what you want to learn. Is the match mainly for competitive intelligence, are you looking for a specific solution, or do you want to learn something?

8. Innovation project: Estimate if it is possible to deviate from internal guidelines (internal procurement limits, etc.) in innovation projects.

9. Create for the future: If there are large needs that no one in the market is currently meeting today, can you encourage startups/entrepreneurs to create solutions in these areas? For example, by creating a small incubator with clearly stated needs that collaborates with other incubators, science parks and Ignite.

10. Keep in mind that there are different types of startups: A digital solution could, for example, be designed so that the bulk of the work is done in the initial stages to minimize the effort required to scale up later on, while a more traditional solution is scaled up linearly. Startups may also be at different stages of their journey. These stages include ‘under development’ (when you develop together in your collaboration/pilot), ‘in testing’ (when you test together and evaluate the results) and ‘in production’ (when they already have customers & references and you decide the scope of implementation in different steps.)

Find these tips and other important information in Pilots as a Strategic Tool for Innovation, a guide for procuring organizations on how to effectively collaborate with startups.

Click here to download the Swedish version of the guide

Click here to download the English version of the guide

Ignite Project Manager and former startup representative Linn Sidahl shares her key learnings from nearly 30 matchmaking meetings.

Before joining Ignite, our Project Manager for Matchmakings Linn Sidahl represented a Swedish startup in nearly 30 matchmaking meetings. Through this experience she has mastered the art of closing the deal for multiple pilot projects with various corporations.

Here Linn shares some of her key learnings for succeeding in your corporate meetings:

1. Keep your Ignite Magic profile up to date

Make sure it’s clear what you’re offering AND what value that creates. This information is hugely influential in the matchmaking process. It’s simple: better profile = better matches.

2. The 20 minutes goes quickly

Plan your meeting ahead, read up on the corporates you will meet and set a goal for what you’d like to achieve in those 20 minutes.

3. Don’t just talk about technology

Find out what specific need and/or problem they are looking to solve and talk about how your technology can help them solve these and what value that creates. Try to steer the conversation towards the specific needs that you can address, instead of just talking about future innovations in general. This adds a sense of urgency to the conversation and will more likely lead to a follow-up.

4. Listen to the corporate

Ask them questions like ‘how is their problem currently being solved?’ ‘What are the main innovation areas they are focusing on in both the short and the long term?’ and ‘What could a future collaboration look like?’.

5. Talk about your expectations

Don’t forget that even though you’re a startup, you can still make some demands on the corporate to also commit to your business relationship. Let them know that you are expecting a real business case at the end and discuss how to get there. Set mutual goals and agree on the next steps already in the first call.

Researchers Tomas Blomquist, Sujith Nair and Medhanie Gaim share their best practice tips for corporates wanting to begin collaborative partnerships.

For corporations, finding the right startup can be expensive and the evaluation process long and difficult. 

After studying 150 Ignite matchmaking meetings, Umeå University’s researchers, Tomas Blomquist, Sujith Nair and Medhanie Gaim, recently published their best practice tips for corporates in the Harvard Business Review.

Their main conclusion is that most collaborations that move past the first meeting share three characteristics: clarity of aim, openness to surprises, and assembling the right team.

Here are some of their key tips for corporates wanting to begin collaborative partnerships with startups:

1. Know what you want to achieve working with a startup

2. Be open to surprises

Although it is important to understand your specific needs, it is also essential to stay open minded about potential matches that don’t seem like a perfect fit at first glance.

3. Assembling the right team

Some key questions Tomas, Sujith and Medhanie suggest corporates ask to better prepare for meeting startups:

Find the full Harvard Business Review article here.

Learn everything you need to know to get more meetings with potential customers with these tips from our coach Carin Lagerstedt.

Being matched with corporates and public organizations is crucial for startups to learn how to develop their market offering and get their first customer.

Ignite’s Branding & Content Marketing Coach, Carin Lagerstedt, shares all the key things to consider if you want to increase the chances to get more meetings with potential B2B and B2G customers through our initiative.

Understand How Ignite Searches for Startups

There are currently more than 2,400 startups on Ignite Magic’s database. A best practice company profile is key to standing out among this enormous number of profiles.

Our starting point when searching for startups is always the needs and challenges of the participating corporates and public organizations. Prior to any matchmaking, we conduct a needs assessment with them to find out their pain points and innovation challenges.

The team searches for relevant startups both manually (e.g. reading the profiles of the companies that applied for a specific event) and with an AI tool called Miss Magic that goes through all the profiles in our database to find the startups that match relevant keywords. It is therefore important that your startup profile includes these keywords in both your short and long descriptions. Try including the words that the corporates, who are neither experts in your domain nor used to the way you describe your solution, would use to describe their challenge and what they are looking for.

Both our team and your potential customers should easily and quickly understand why your solution is a good match. Therefore, a best practice profile should aim to answer the following questions:

Last but not least, don’t forget to keep your company information up to date. Remember to regularly update information regarding team size, last completed investment, turnover, solution maturity, etc. All this information is taken into consideration when our team and the organizations decide if your startup is a good match.

Create Website Content That Helps Matchmaking Decisions

The information you provide on your website can also influence a matchmaking decision.

When shortlisting startups for corporates and public organizations, our team will always check out your website to make sure that what you do has the potential to solve their innovation challenges. The same will be done by their representatives when deciding whether to meet you or not.

This is why describing what relevant knowledge and insights you can share with partners and customers is key to driving interest in your startup.

Make sure to include this key information on your website:

Remember that the people who visit your website for the first time want to know they are in the right place and what benefits your business will provide for them. Once you have caught their initial interest, your main goal should be to make it easy for them to identify the reasons why taking the next step is worthwhile, i.e. filling out a form or confirming a match with your startup.

About Carin Lagerstedt

Carin Lagerstedt is one of our coaches at Ignite with a focus on branding and B2B marketing within technical and industrial solutions.
She is currently working as CMO at Strainlabs with their innovative IoT bolts for predictive maintenance and mechanical insights. Together with the startup, she has participated in several matchmaking events arranged by Ignite where she had the chance to meet 10 corporations.
Carin has a track record in enabling efficient sales growth with digital content marketing – whilst building a thought leadership position in the process.

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.

How to best move from a pilot project to a full rollout is a sticking point for many corporate and startup collaborations. Three AI startup CEOs discuss how companies can better prepare for scaling projects from the very beginning.

It can be difficult to move from the pilot process to the rollout phase but there are some practical ways to ease the process, including clearly defining what problem the startup is there to solve early on. 

“Corporations can sometimes get over excited about new technology like AI. It is easy to lose track of what problem you will solve. At the end of the day, it is just another tool that’s going to help the corporate. Without real problems it will be hard to show your true value and get things done,” says Jon Linden, CEO of Ekkono. 

To address this issue, Shahan Lilja, CEO of Mavenoid suggests a practical way to get everyone on the same page before a pilot even begins. Mavenoid always creates a one-page project charter with their customer that clearly defines the purpose, goals, deliverables, timeline, stakeholders of a potential project. 

“We always try to make the customer a part of the process of making it. It is very important that multiple stakeholders on the customer side feel that they have created this artifact.” 

Martin Rugfelt, CEO of Sentian, also says this pre-process is essential and adds that having domain expertise in the room and available to work on the project from the beginning, as well as agreeing on data access to ensure the technology can work for the company is also crucial for success.  

“We also put a lot of effort into the KPI:s and how to measure them so we really understand each other and the value we create is measurable.”

Ensuring the business model is sound is also essential to getting over the scaleup hurdles and for Jon, this shouldn’t be such a big issue if you have set the right goals in place at the beginning. 

“The pilot should be an integral part of a project, it shouldn’t be a stand alone thing. It should be a validation along the way to solving a real problem. The question should really be what does it take to roll this out and the focus should be on the end product of the problem you’re trying to solve rather than the pilot being an end of itself.”

Martin adds that you need to have a good process for testing and learning from that first pilot, so any issues that arise can be fixed and the project can be scaled up. This means there needs to be training and all of the other components. “Just because you are working with a startup doesn’t mean it is going to be cheap, it is going to cost just as it does when you are rolling things out with bigger companies.”

“You can’t validate your business model by giving things away for free. Always charge for something that adds value to the customer. By digging into what value your solution brings to the table, it is much easier during and after the pilot to show the value of your technology. If you successfully solve a problem easier and cheaper, you will have successful collaboration and a new customer.” says Jon.  

Sharan also says building the business model into the contract at the beginning of the pilot can ensure you’re talking to the right people from the start. 

“You will be forced to talk to the real problem owner. Instead of the innovation officer who may get promotion based on the number of projects they run. Then you hopefully solve the real problem and show the real value of your technology.”

Five Main TIps from AI CEOs:

  1. Have a clear goal from the beginning- Make sure both parties are on the same page and have an understanding of what challenge the startup will provide a solution for. One way to do this is to create a short project charter before the process starts.

  2. Have clear KPIs- It is important to be able to measure the value and success of the collaboration as it moves forward.
  3. Don’t make the pilot an endpoint- Go into a collaboration with the assumption that it will continue past the pilot stage. The pilot should be seen as a type of quality assurance rather than stopping point.
  4. Don’t give your product away for free- Startups are providing a product or service and it is not a sustainable business model to give this away for free. Charge for something that adds value to a company.
  5. Have the right processes in place- Make sure there is the capacity for testing and scaling up. Get the right people in the room from the beginning including domain experts.

Watch the full discussion on how to design an AI pilot for success here: