Ignite Stories: IBM

Learn more about how Ignite has helped IBM foster numerous new startup collaborations including one with SiB Solutions.

IBM winners of 2021 award celebrating on a banner with Ignite colours and text IBM - A collaboration story

In the fast-paced world of business and technology, forming fruitful collaborations and partnerships is essential to ensure ongoing innovation practices. For IBM, Ignite has been integral to facilitating ongoing meetings with startups.

In 2019, IBM began working with Ignite and have since participated in over two hundred meetings. This has led to many startups entering their accelerator program, developing and enhancing new innovative solutions together. 

Finding startups through Ignite for their one-year accelerator program simply made sense according to Stefan Terelius, Client Engagement Leader at IBM.

“We needed someone who was working with lots of startups at a fairly early stage and  vetting the companies,” he says. 

“We could have hired freelance consultants in combination with access to databases and done cold calling, but we found a home here and really appreciated both the mission and the fact it is a nonprofit organization. It also added credibility to us to be vetted by Ignite; it shows we have a good process with the right mindset,” adds Urban Roth, IBM Innovation Studio Stockholm Leader.

Stefan Terelius, IBM

The process

According to Urban, the needs assessment process helps them choose the right startups beforehand, which allows them to make the most of the initial 20 minute meeting through Ignite. 

From there, IBM has a well structured process that includes a series of in-depth meetings and evaluations, including a thorough examination of market fit, solution maturity, and the end-to-end business model. They also bring in other internal actors at an early stage to ensure that there is a need for the solution within the company, or wider innovation ecosystem. This method ensures that not only are the basic criteria met, but it also assesses the alignment of goals, strategies, and commitment from both parties. 

When these are agreed upon, a formal agreement is set up with an NDA and clear letter of intent. “We set up clearly what we want to do, what we want to achieve and most importantly, the order in which we will do it. It’s basically three ninety day plans with a focus on the first one,” explains Urban.

At this point the work begins. The IBM program includes both a technical and business track. 

“We are working with the technicalities such as how to create a platform that’s stronger, better, more flexible, with increased security, and possibilities to scale up or down. But we also look at the business side including how to sell, business strategy, which segments and clients to engage with, how to engage with clients, how to run a pilot, how to run the PSC, when to get paid, how to get paid and all those questions. 

Urban Roth, IBM

“And then a bit further in the process we also do some joint marketing and let the market know we are working together, and what’s the value of it. We reach out to other IBM partners seeking clients that are interested in this new combination of solutions and try to get the first commercial deal on the table. By then, we have usually reached the 12 month target,” says Stefan. 

The program is cost and equity free, so its primary purpose is to act as a door opener for both the startups participating and IBM itself by designing commercial contract partnerships with those they work with. 

“We provide startups internally into our ecosystem as assets that bring new conversations together with existing clients and existing organizations. This provides that opportunity for the startup founders but it can also create new conversations for IBM, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Urban. 

For international companies looking to be on the cutting edge of their industries, working with startups is an obvious choice. The matchmaking at Sweden Innovation Days allowed corporates to meet innovative startups from the ten countries most suited to their specific needs.

A startup’s journey

One startup that has successfully been through this process is SiB Solutions who met IBM at an Ignite South event in 2020. The logistics technology startup made a crucially timed pivot to combine intelligent video analysis and AI into software that enables customers to compare their supposed goods flow to reality.

“We noticed a gap in the market and we were convinced that we could add some significant values to logistics-intensive companies. Our Intelligent Video and AI Services are subscription-based, and we include all the needed hardware and software so they only need to sign up and then enjoy the value,” says Stefan Borg, CEO, SiB Solutions. 

For SiB Solutions, the reason they joined IBM was linked to their cloud computing capabilities. 

“Our software is running on computers on site, but also in the Cloud. We previously had another vendor for this but IBM convinced us that they had a feasible option for us. Their approach to us was very gentle and service minded and they had a very good process to bring us on board,” says Stefan Borg. 

From there, the two companies went through the technical assessments and processes required to see how they could work together and despite some delays due to the pandemic, Stefan says it was a positive experience. 

“We set up to migrate to their cloud and they provided good support whenever we came across technical issues or challenges. They always acted as a good proxy and made sure we connected with who we needed to engage with and find a good solution.”

“And then at a certain point, we started to talk more and more about going to market collaboration, how did they see it with the marketing and that is still ongoing even now with activities that we can be involved in,” says Stefan.

This time in the accelerator has also provided them with a new partnership with Shibuya (who are part of the Pulsen Group) who introduced them as they knew that they would be a good fit for SiB Solutions.  

Stefan Borg, SiB Solutions

“Shibuya is part of IBM’s ecosystem and works as our proxy into IBM when it comes to consuming the service we use. Even though we have graduated from the startup program, we are still in close contact and they bring us into the game when it’s good timing.”

It’s not just the direct referrals that IBM facilitates but also the security of having the tech-giant behind them that helps SiB Solutions find new business. Stefan reflects that it has been a win-win collaboration for them. 

“One main reason we decided to engage was that we would get much more hands-on assistance from them free of charge and they add security and value for our potential customers to know that there is certification around our solution.” 

Tips for Startups

  • Don’t rush, make sure you create a good plan and take it step by step
  • Discuss and remove any deal breakers as early as possible in the process 
  • One of the biggest challenges for startups is knowing where to put your resources
  • Have a growth mindset and be open to receive input and learnings from the corporate
  • Be open to integrate IBM technology into your solution (where it makes sense from a technical and business perspective) as it can help foster a strong foundation for collaboration

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