Can corporates be disruptors? The value of partnerships

“The customers we’ve reached, the opportunities we’ve bid for and the projects we have carried out would not have been possible without our partner ecosystem.”

Startup Stock Photos
Startup Stock Photos

Partnerships hold different value for different organisations.  For a start-up desperately seeking new customers to drive their business forward, value from a partnership could mean business development and client introductions.  For a multinational corporation, the value of a partnership could be a new use for their product set, or access to innovation opportunities.

This is the beauty of partnerships – two different organisations can come together and both equally receive value – by providing each other with different support.

Corporates are seeing that partnerships with start-ups are good for business – they enable innovation and provide them with visibility into a world they haven’t had access to for years.

The Coca Cola Company is leading the way with their Coca Cola Founders program, where Coca Cola’s business challenges are put out to start-up founders to come up with solutions and ultimately create spin off companies that still work with Coca Cola.  In effect, Coca Cola is annexing its innovation and R&D departments, putting ideas into smaller, entrepreneurial companies that can leverage the support from Coca Cola, without the inhibitors and mindsets that come with larger business processes.  This enables companies to ‘stay nimble’ and respond to challenges in an entrepreneurial way, and the Founders program must also be a way of cutting through the processes that need to be in place to run a big company like Coca Cola, but don’t need to be in place when embarking on product design sprints for a start-up.

This shows that partnerships don’t all have to look and feel the same.  Partnerships can range from being a pure resell model through to being spin off companies where there is still a strong partnership in place but a degree of separation to allow for innovation.

Partnerships can be great for start-up companies who want to grow quickly and reach new customers but lack the infrastructure and staffing resources required to deliver this growth.  Partnering with a larger company who can resell your services means you have instant access to an established sales force without the cost of investing in sales teams.

One thing we always talk about is the time and trust required for a successful partnership.  These relationships don’t just work from day one – they take a long time to establish and work out a good fit, and an ever longer time to build trust so that our partners know how we like to work at C24, and likewise we know how our partners like to work.  Despite the time and effort involved, we couldn’t have grown our business without our partners – the customers we’ve reached, the opportunities we’ve bid for and the projects we have carried out would not have been possible without our partner ecosystem.  Our business intelligence tool, BI24, might never have reached the many different sectors it has without our strong partnerships in place with industry leaders in their respective sectors.

And partnerships don’t just mean ‘reselling’.  We also partner with clients and deliver a range of services to them, above and beyond just IT.  This could take the form of marketing and PR – helping to promote their stories alongside our own – and helping to grow their businesses in the process.

Many companies struggle with partnerships because they don’t have a built in framework for how to engage with partners.  A partner contract is not going to fix it – it’s about having a go-to-market strategy for your partner base; how you’ll work with them, what resources you commit to them and the methods that are going to be used to attract and retain partners.

At the end of the day, the worry about partnerships usually comes from risk.  And usually risk to customer relationships.  Working to eliminate the risk to customer relationships is the most important, yet most difficult, issue to overcome.  We usually work with our new partners on an initial project to test the water and let each side see that we aren’t after each other’s business, but in fact we are trying to develop incremental new revenues for both parties.

As a relatively small company (that is now part of a much bigger company with Six Degrees Group), we have been able to work with customers of all scales and sizes through partnerships – and larger companies who we have partnered with have helped us to reach better press coverage with our clients, and generate connections with other similar companies in our sector.  In some partnerships we are the sales engine, whilst in others we deliver the technicians and hardware.

I feel that many companies, especially in the IT sector, are not making the most of partnerships to become disruptors in their space.  Multinational corporates could call on the thousands of entrepreneurial start-ups across the country to reinvigorate their processes, products and innovation practices – rather than doing things in the same way for the next twenty years.

We have to be confident in our partnerships that our partners aren’t going to compete against us.  We in fact say, approach us to partner and compete with us, not against us.  Let’s see what is possible through new partnerships and invigorating old partnerships – what can we come up with?  What innovations can we develop?  Who can we reach?  What can we solve?


Here are a few interesting follow on links that might be of interest to anyone looking at corporate and start-up collaboration and innovation:

Partnerships between technology-based start-ups and established firms: making them work – University of Cambridge

Coca Cola Company: How big companies can work with startups

Forbes: How start-ups can land big partnerships


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