Step 4
Let’s get Started and Collaborate Successfully

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Accelerating the collaboration through support units

A quick start for the collaboration is desirable for both sides, but due to complex and bureaucratic processes, the commercial and technical integration of the start-up often requires a long time. Therefore remember to keep the aforementioned constraints of start-ups in mind, especially when it comes to financial liquidity, time or negotiation experience.

One strategy to accelerate the initiation process is to create standards or frameworks that can be applied to future collaborations (e.g. shorter contracts and different procurement rules). It is also advisable to involve your relevant departments (such as purchasing, legal and IT) at an early stage. This increases their commitment and can reveal potential hurdles earlier in the process.

Make employees part of the collaboration

The success of a start-up collaboration often depends on the involvement of all relevant stakeholders in your company. Processes and standards can only provide the framework for collaboration; for success, people are truly decisive. Therefore, you need promoters, people within your company with the right mind-set to establish trustworthy collaborations.

How can you, as an established company, win promoters for the start-up collaboration?

  • A first step is to win individual employees or entire departments which are open to the topic of collaboration.

  • Additionally, incentive systems will ensure that employees are motivated.

  • The start-up collaboration should not be an additional burden on employees; instead, commitment should be rewarded.

  • Promoters should receive recognition in staff appraisals or have opportunities to present on successful collaborations at events.

  • The collaboration framework needs to enable promoters to experiment and take risks.

Manage pilot projects

Pilot projects, also called Proof-of-Concept (POC), have proven to be a good starting point for long-term collaborations. During a pilot project, the start-up solution can easily be tested and integrated in a controllable area.

Prior to a pilot project, a clear framework should be established, for which we recommend the following points:

Clear framework

  • A common vision and mission statement for the project, based on the goal

  • Expectations and needs of the project

  • Scope and content of the project

  • An agreement to exchange needed resources with reasonable deadlines

  • A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for securing confidential information

  • Next steps of the successful pilot project

Agreed working mode

  • A clear and reasonable timeline with deadlines

  • Milestones to track critical steps

  • Clear KPIs, based on which the success of the project can be measured objectively

  • Clear deliverables for each side, modalities and formalities of communication and frequency of interaction

Measure success – KPI’s and NFKPI’s

The definition of performance indicators is critical, since the start-up collaboration must deliver measurable results. Why would you or the start-up pursue the collaboration otherwise?

On the one hand, KPIs are always introduced to measure the success of a collaboration. On the other hand, sticking to only one dimension brings with it the risk of missing out on innovation potential. To avoid this, we recommend adjusting the KPIs for every single collaboration. By doing so you create the possibility to measure what both parties want to achieve.

It should also be noted that non-financial KPIs such as customer feedback can also give an indication of whether the project will be successful in the long-run.

In general, collaboration partners should look for a mixture of financial and non-financial indicators.

Strengthen the collaboration

Even though you have already worked with the start-up, keep in mind that it requires ongoing effort to keep the connection viable and to enable a strategic partnership. To support you also in this task, we have developed some guidelines for a long-term and healthy cooperation.

Develop vision and mission

Every collaboration needs a common vision and mission. These should be formulated explicitly and in writing by both parties at the very beginning. After all, problems will arise if everyone does not move in the same direction. The motives and expectations for the collaboration may be different for each partner, but they should align on common goals and approaches to ensure a mutually beneficial collaboration.

Clear commitments

In collaborations, clear commitments are needed from the very beginning to prevent misunderstandings and inconveniences on both sides.

Embed the collaboration internally

Companies should take care to integrate collaborations with start-ups into their own structures and processes at an early stage, to integrate them with the relevant business processes, and to link them with the key stakeholders.

Define responsibilities

Responsibilities should be defined on both sides. Responsibilities change quickly, especially with dynamically growing start-ups. Here it is particularly important to pay attention to clearly assigned responsibilities in order to avoid frustrations. It is also beneficial in many cases to create and define project plans together.

Communicate well

It is advisable to define a framework for communication: Who communicates with whom, when and how? Due to the different processes and cultures in start-ups and established companies, the expectations regarding the form and speed of communication will naturally also differ.

Review your collaboration strategy

Companies should analyse and evaluate all partnerships individually. Feedback can be used to continuously optimise and adjust the collaboration strategy and portfolio management.

Incorporate the collaboration process in the organisation structures

Above all, make sure you and all relevant stakeholders have a joint understanding of the motivation (why) and goal (what) behind a specific collaboration. This and the following recommendations can help you to incorporate the collaboration process into your organisational structure:

  • Foster internal networking between relevant stakeholders.

  • Involve department or business unit stakeholders early and before details are pitched to upper management; take the necessary time for a gradual cultivation of mind-set.

  • Consider relevant company and department objectives from the initiation of the collaboration.

  • Gain top-level management support to enable the relevant department managers and stakeholders to re-prioritise if necessary.

  • Setup and enable (e.g. train and coach) an agile project team with entrepreneurial responsibility. Implement regular reviews of processes based on meaningful joint milestones instead of "old" established KPIs.

  • Ensure funding until ROI with a central budget for start-up/innovation projects.

  • Transform and adapt relevant KPIs and resource planning step-by-step with specific projects to test them.


Please feel free to download the following template to support your successful collaboration

Learn more

We hope to have provided you with insights and a general overview of how to make start-up collaboration work.

Are you interested in the start-up perspective?

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