How Enterprises Can Collaborate Effectively with Startups

By Jeremy Brown | Crowdsourcing
December 14, 2017
  • Using ideation management software for external ideation is an effective way of collaborating with startups at scale
  • Siemens has created a blueprint for effective startup-enterprise collaboration that any company can emulate

How can we effectively collaborate with startups?

That’s a question that routinely comes up at many of the conferences Spigit hosts and attends as well as in our day-to-day conversations with Fortune 500 companies.

Why should enterprises collaborate with startups? There are several reasons, including:

  • Access to startups working on newer technologies (i.e. blockchain)
  • Fast tracking disruption by partnering with startups who are challenging the status quo
  • Taking advantage of a startup’s willingness to take risks

But what does effective startup-enterprise collaboration look like?

In this article, we’ll look at one company that has cracked the code on effective collaboration with startups and, more importantly, how they did it.

Startup collaboration fueled by external ideation

Siemens, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe and a longstanding Spigit customer, is one company in particular that all enterprises should keep an eye on when it comes to collaborating with startups.

The manufacturer is a perfect example of how external ideation can create an ecosystem where collaboration between enterprise and startup fosters innovation. In fact, they have a history of effective collaboration – sourcing ideas from the general public to tackle challenges like fixing traffic congestion, for example.

In 2013, Siemens implemented Spigit’s ideation management software to launch their Frontier Partner Program to help entrepreneurs in the manufacturing space develop their solutions and get them to market faster. The goal? Partner with startups to transform manufacturing.

Through a partnership with Siemens, startups get help on the development and commercialization of their digital manufacturing technologies. Select startups also get free access to industry-proven software tools, developer resources, and marketing support.

But Siemens didn’t stop at the Frontier Program, they doubled down.

In 2016, the company launched a $1 billion venture fund called Next47. The aim is to provide manufacturing startups – even Siemens’ employees who have great ideas – with capital, expertise, and connections in the manufacturing industry.

What’s in it for Siemens?

Now, you may be wondering: “Doesn’t investing resources (i.e. time and money) in startups that can potentially compete with your company hinder growth?” Quite the opposite.

No matter how big your company is, you can’t do everything…effectively. In fact, doing too many things without a thread that connects them all together can have a negative impact on business. You run the risk of diluting your value proposition and spreading yourself too thin.

Siemens isn’t investing its resources or partnering with just any company or industry. They’re taking a laser like approach to transforming manufacturing by investing in the people – internal and external – that can help move the industry forward. This type of collaboration opens the door to several opportunities for the company, including:

  • Faster growth and innovation in manufacturing (e.g. the development of VR and AR technology)
  • Connects Siemens with up-and-coming tech talent that are prime candidates for acqu-hires (acquiring a company specifically for its employees’ talent)
  • Potential financial returns on investments

In the long-run, that type of startup collaboration is a smart strategy for enterprises to implement.

Key observations from Siemens’ collaboration efforts

Have a purpose.

Siemens created the Frontier Partner Program and Next47 for one purpose: to transform the manufacturing industry. It just so happens that collaborating with and investing in startups is an effective way to make this happen. But they also see the material value that this collaboration can have shorter term for the company, through potential future talent and acquisitions.

As you begin to explore ways to collaborate effectively with startups, have a clear why behind your efforts.

Embrace ideation.

From crowdsourcing ideas from the public to solve traffic problems to the Frontier Partner Program, tapping into the collective intelligence of people at scale through ideation is something Siemens has done extremely well.

There’s a reason why ideating with employees and external crowds – like startups – has become an important piece to Siemens’ collaboration efforts and long-term vision. It enables them to surface new ways of solving business challenges that stagnate growth.

Give startups access to helpful tools and resources.

Growing a startup is hard. In fact, ~80-90% of them fail.

If collaborating with startups is on your priority list, determine what value your company brings to the table. Is is capital? Is it industry expertise or connections?

Whatever it is, just like Siemens, give startups access to it to help drive long-term value for both parties.

Focus your efforts.

One thing you’ll notice about Siemens’ collaboration efforts is that they didn’t partner with just any startup. Whether it’s through the Frontier Partner Program or Next47, they focus on the companies whose unique ideas can help achieve their long-term vision of transforming manufacturing.

As you start outlining what collaborating with startups looks like for your company, ensure you’re focusing your efforts on companies that align with your core purpose.

Final thoughts

Whatever your reason is for wanting to collaborate with startups, Siemens has created a blueprint that demonstrates how to do it no matter what industry you’re in.

At Spigit, not only have we enjoyed watching the growth of Siemens’ collaboration efforts with startups, we’ve seen countless other customers – such as the United Nations, Aspen Ideas Festival, and others – blaze their own paths to success. What do they all have in common? Ideation.

Ultimately, when documenting your collaboration strategy, keep the key observations in this article in mind and you’ll be well on your way to effective startup collaboration.

Recommended For You
The Spigit Innovation Blog
The best innovation ideas, advice, and news in your inbox.