“Partnering with corporates can be great for start-up growth”
“Start-ups can be so passionate about their product that they forget to think about how it can add value to corporates”, Pedro Rocha Vieira. Co-Founder & CEO of Beta-i, said at the Start-Up Lab in Estoril. And that's where an organisation like Beta-i comes in.
Beta-i is a Lisbon-based entrepreneurship and innovation organisation at European level, helping new and established businesses grow the startup way, by running acceleration and innovation programmes.
“Innovation is happening fast – and corporates are being disrupted. Back in 2000, the average lifespan of a corporation was 60 years. Now it's 30 years. So to survive, they have to learn to cooperate with start-ups. Just one problem: there's so many of them out there”, Mr. Rocha Vieira said.
Silicon Valley is the template for an incubator environment where start-ups can grow, thrive and make the transition to corporate relevance. Similar ecosystems have sprung up around the world; Lisbon, for example, currently is the fastest-growing start-up hub in Europe, thanks in part to Beta-i.
“It is our role to build the ecosystem, to mediate between start-ups and corporates, and to accelerate their cooperation – to bring the methodology of start-ups to the corporate sector”, said Mr. Rocha Vieira, who at the Start-Up Lab focused on three elements: how to build such ecosystems, how to attract investment and grow start-ups, and how to attach those start-ups to relevant corporates.
Fragmented road map
Of particular interest was the discussion on financing – especially the crucial second round of fundraising. It can be very difficult to find that money, “because the investment road map is getting to be very fragmented. Start-ups should focus on finding investors who have worked with similar start-ups, and thus have a better understanding of their business”.
But: venture capital is not the solution for everyone. “Having a partnership with a good corporate also offers great opportunities for fast growth. This presents its own problems, as corporates are often so large that they contain various decision making centres. It can be hard to find the right partner”.
Fortunately, corporates are also opening up more to a wider range of possibilities. “Increasingly, corporate innovation follows various paths: not just internal development or external R&D, but also more and more open collaboration with start-ups”, said Mr. Rocha Vieira.
The nature of that collaboration is, often, by definition... vague. “From a corporate point of view, it's somewhere between procurement and investment. Often, neither the corporate nor the start-up know exactly what will be the outcome of their collaboration”. That collaboration is often explicitly framed as a 'sandbox', in which both parties recognise that experimentation is the purpose.