Startup partnerships

Here’s how you connect with industry giants (and why you should)

Startups and corporations can seem like opposites, but they share a deep similarity—they both want to innovate and change lives. In today’s faced-paced economy, the startup and the corporation need each other. 

In previous decades, corporations did one thing to startups—acquire them. This isn’t the case anymore. Corporations are increasingly eager to collaborate with, experiment with, and even facilitate startups. They appreciate their nimble, scrappy approach to solving problems. Meanwhile, to prove their viability, startup entrepreneurs know that the credibility a big brand can give them is game-changing and that their resources are unparalleled. 

 

Most startups don’t survive the first few years 

All too often, they shut down before they can taste the fruits of their labor. However, partnering with a well-established company can provide the right kind of stability to push through those rocky first years and toward massive growth. 

Finding the best partnership can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how you can connect with the right corporations and figure out if there’s a symbiotic future together. 

 

Before you begin: Research programs that might boost your startup

Corporate partnerships can be worth their weight in gold—but they take time (and grit) to finesse. Incubators, accelerators, and even pitch competitions can get you noticed faster and often have legitimate networking built into the experience. 

In an incubator, you can test ideas and explore if your startup idea is worth pursuing. In an accelerator, you are challenged by startup veterans, coaches, and people with top-notch business acumen who help you look at your startup from different angles to gain fast funding—all in a very short amount of time. 

Startup studios are all these things, plus a VC firm. For instance, within P&G Ventures, you have a partnership, access to top scientists, a well-oiled supply chain, and marketing geniuses—plus financial resources. It’s a unique approach to the process, even if you’ve been involved in startups before. 

However, we have some tips if you’re looking to pursue a corporate relationship outside of a structured program.

Step one: Understand what you want

Before you start networking for partnerships, it’s crucial to have an idea of what you think you’d gain from the corporate relationship. Ask yourself how the resources of a big company could solve current problems or even potential problems. Examine your growing brand, and ask yourself honestly, “Where are our weak spots? Where do we need help? What’s the end result?”

Large companies excel at market research, branding, marketing, supply chains, and product design, just to name a few. Look at your long and short-term goals, and envision how this partnership fits the bigger picture. Anticipate what you’ll need in the future, and be sensitive to what you need to be doing better now. 

Step two: Realize your worth and what you bring to the table

All good business relationships are mutually beneficial. So think about what you as a startup have to offer a large corporation. Why would they want to partner with you? What is your idea or startup doing differently, and how would a big business find that beneficial? You know the value you want to add to your consumers’ lives, so treat corporations as a different kind of consumer. What value can you add to them? 

Maybe they simply could use what you provide. For example, if you’re providing software that makes the lives of security guards easier, offer to incorporate your software into their system. Taking the initiative to solve problems (however small) is a powerful way to demonstrate value. 

Another avenue of connection might be if you have the same target demographics. If you’re a startup that makes customizable vitamins based on your consumers’ blood types and activity levels, could you provide the big companies with insights into the statistics you’re finding? Would that information be of real benefit to them? 

Figure out what’s a win-win for everyone on board. What do they want that you can provide? And even more importantly, what do they not even realize they want yet?

Step three: Note names and know names 

When it comes to making corporate partnerships, preparation is vital. Social media can be a powerful tool here. Start with LinkedIn, and explore your connections. Do you know anyone at the company you want to connect with? Are there mutual friends that would be willing to introduce you to them? 

Then, consider the type of role that would benefit from your company. Would the procurement director benefit? Human resources? IT? Make sure the person you’re looking for is the actual decision-maker. This can be hard to discern, but look at their roles and responsibilities and consider how many people they manage. 

Check to see if there are roles focused on corporate and startup relationships. As corporations become more interested in collaborating with startups, there might be a small department, or a single person, who focuses on meeting people like you. This would most likely be with substantial, long-established companies, but it’s another possible avenue to make a connection. That said, the more research you have when you reach out, the more likely they’ll be able to connect you with the right decision-maker (and the more you’ll impress them). 

Step four: Figure out if you’re committed to the same mission

Corporations are made of people, and nothing gets people more excited than sharing a similar goal. For instance, if your startup wants to connect with P&G and is also championing the body-positivity movement, you might want to collaborate with Olay, the brand that recently announced they would no longer use marketing images with unrealistic body standards.

Or perhaps your startup is involved in children’s education. Look into which charities your targeted corporation is engaged in. What humanitarian efforts have they supported in recent years? How could your startup’s product empower these efforts? Finding shared values might transform a lukewarm lead into a hot one. 

Step five: Lead with a timeline

Now that you’ve started networking and brainstorming ideas, here’s the hardest part: exercising patience. These kinds of relationships take time—and sometimes a lot of it. You’ll be cc’d on many email introductions while you maneuver through various levels of management and directors, trying to move forward with your goals. Depending on timing, they might be legitimately interested, but your startup may or may not be a priority to them at this juncture. Thus, it’s crucial that you keep the relationship a priority on your end. 

Of course, it’s important not to overwhelm their inbox, but patience doesn’t mean you should let them lead. Find ways to consistently connect and see if you can hold their deliverables (and yours) to deadlines, which will keep everyone on task and help the partnership grow. 

Finally: Partnerships can help your company level up

Finding ways to stand out as a startup is tough. Partnering with big brands will give you the street cred that would otherwise take years to develop. Done well, it can catapult your brand visibility. A true corporate partnership will hold your hand and guide you through complicated public relations, supply chain issues, or even scientific realities. And this kind of partnership attracts consumers and possible investors—and platforms that may have been initially impossible to obtain. 

So while startups and corporations might seem like they come from different planets, they can be one of the most symbiotic business relationships out there. 

For more information about P&G Ventures or a chance to share your game-changing innovation, visit www.pgventuresstudio.com.