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Freerk Bisschop

Startups & Corporates: Mind the Gap

It’s an ongoing question these days: can startups and corporates benefit from working together? Does it accelerate innovation and growth, or is it an unhappy marriage for both? A kiss of death to the startup or an over-hyped distraction to corporates? We’ve seen examples of both – and learned from successful exceptions.

So yes, it can go wrong easily. Corporates often don’t have their innovation strategy lined up properly and are not clear about what they can achieve by working with startups. And even if they do have a clear mandate, how do they keep their legacy interests from interfering? How do they match corporate decision-making and risk management with the agility and pivoting of startups or embrace open innovation in a competitive environment? Startups have a hard time with corporates, too. They don’t know what to ask for, and whom to involve. They lack the patience (or runway!) to discuss and structure a deal – they want to hit the road and burn rubber, twisting and turning.

At the same time,  it is obvious what the mutual benefits can be. Startups may validate their proposition against corporate expertise or customers. Startups can also boost their sales revenues using the corporate as client or sales channel.  Furthermore, corporate collaborations can lead to  increased visibility, as well as valuation; not to mention the access to corporate investment. Corporate organisations get priority access to new technology, new markets or tomorrow’s business models. And even if that’s not at stake, collaboration with a startup can still brush up their brand, inspire new thinking or shake up corporate culture.

So there’s enough to get out of it for both sides, but mind the differences in interests, attitudes and expectations. An accelerator program can be very effective in bridging the gap. Workshops and matchmaking events teach startups how to engage with a corporate, and educates corporates to develop lean and agile relations with a startup. Additionally, the relationship-building process is actively supported by mentorship from experts, entrepreneurs and investors … on both sides of the gap! This helps to understand and acknowledge both common interest as well as dividing differences and rapidly deal with those in a constructive and beneficial way.

Rockstart Smart Energy is a ‘vertical’ accelerator connecting energy corporates like Engie, Alliander, CEZ and Shell to clean-energy web-technology startups. The past 3 editions have delivered fast-growing startups like WeShareSolar (crowdfunding solar), Finch Buildings (modular and green), Bleeve (greening your home) and Sympower (load balancing service) by aligning them with banks, utilities, engineering services and more.

Applications are open now until 17 February for global startups in the field of Internet of Energy (decentralized, decarbonized & digital).  The 4th program runs 150 days from early April to mid September.  Want to learn more?  Apply now.  


Freerk Bisschop is the Program Director for Rockstart’s Smart Energy Accelerator program and has been part of the team since 2015.


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