Here’s what I tell corporates when they ask me how to crush it in a startup cooperation

In 2016, Fraunhofer Venture started a new project, called TechBridge. The goal was simple: to empower start-ups and Fraunhofer institutes for joint innovation projects. Nearly 100 different project proposals have now reached our office.

Indeed, the idea od corporate-startup collaboration has gained a lot of traction recently. A study of Unilever Foundry shows that 80% of corporates believe that start-ups can positively contribute to innovation and 90% are already engaged in this type of collaborations.

1. Care for a cup of coffee

This number makes corporate-startup co-operations sound easy. They are not. Bellow I’ve pulled together 5 tips generated from watching cooperation patterns over the past years that I hope will help start-ups, researchers, innovation, and business managers. If you are looking for examples of corporate-startup co-operations, read — and sign-in — for the Ambi-Vation Newsletter, a recognized corporate-startup matchmaker in Germany.

Just want the summary? Click here for the original publication (currently in German only). Want the 5 tips? Read on.

2. Keep the minutes

Trust is the base for any relationship. Especially in asymmetric relationships, like the ones of corporate-startup co-operations. For start-ups those are often more binding, creating a higher level of dependence on the partner and the results of the partnership.

You can find some extra tips on trust-building in 7 Trust-Building Tips To Use In Your Business. But showing a genuine interest in each other and having a cup of coffee every now and then is a good way to start.

3. Start where you are

Management by walking about is a widely spread leadership practice. In a constantly increasing complexity this approach has been criticized a lot lately. Informal communication does not replace a precise action plan. This needs to be written down and agreed upon by all parties to work. The same is valid for corporate-startup co-operations.

A study of the Swiss university for applied sciences FHNWCooperation management in Germany, Austria and Switzerland” shows that the insufficient cooperation management is one of the main reasons for failures.

Unrealistic goals are often the reason for disappointment and failure. The solution? Setting realistic, clear and agreed upon expectations, i.e. expectation management. A good practice is described by Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up” by the following 3 steps:

4. Appreciate each other

  1. Map the status quo
  2. Define the final goal
  3. Write down all the milestones and their interedependencies

For a more detailed explanation read also Seven Steps to Setting Clear Expectations by Kevin Eikenberry. If you are not familiar with the Harvard Method of Negotiation, here is a brief overiew. I also strongly recommend reading the bestseller “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury.

5. Communicate right

Let’s face it — start-ups will never act like corporates and vice versa. And this is good news. The organizations are different, and this is the real value of the collaboration project. So don’t try to change each other. Focus on your strengths and go for the match.

The study Building Trust 2013: Workforce Trends Defining High Performance explored the overlap of leadership, trust and collaboration to find out that high performance teams actually value other players’ strengths double the normal. So who do you want to be?

And at the bottom-line, get updated on tools. An up-to-date communication of project status and deliverables is half the battle won. Transparent and live communication has never been easier than today with tools like Slack, Trello and Microsoft Flow. A study by Skopos found out that this is the case in less than 30% of corporates.

Finally, corporate-startup projects serve all the principles of human psychology, but in the catalyzed environment of low resources and extra risk. So, if you are on the broad side of the leverage be generous and fair with your partners. What goes around, comes around, you know.