10 Teachings from the Startup Commercialization Trenches

The BridgeCommunity (now Techpublic) is a unique commercialization program that connects early-stage technology startups with global corporations. The program has developed a reliable process for corporations to partner with well-vetted startups – increasing both the viability and speed of moving those relationships through the innovation pipeline.

Your Ideas Are Terrible operates the program’s North American spin-off. We handle startup recruitment, workshop facilitation, event planning, relationship moderation, producing a play-by-play guide for both the corporations and startups, and everything in-between.

The BridgeCommunity really gets deals done. The first BridgeCommunity cohort in 2016, which included 10 startups and five corporations, sparked nine pilots and proof-of-concepts. In 2017 the corporate roster added Porsche North America and SunTrust Bank to the lineup from 2016, including Capgemini, Coca-Cola, COX Enterprises, InterContinental Hotels Group, and The Weather Company. We also significantly increased startup recruitment for the 2017 cohort resulting in triple the number of applications and double the number of participating startups.

We are in the homestretch of the second Atlanta-based cohort which will wrap up in mid-October. Our grand finale is the Corporate Innovation Summit, where Atlanta’s innovation community will coalesce for a day of peer-learning and best practices.

Carie Davis, a Partner of Your Ideas Are Terrible, recently spoke about our work producing the BridgeCommunity at the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit. Check out her talk and get the Cliff Notes version below.

Your Ideas Are Terrible’s top 10 takeaways from the BridgeCommunity:

  1. Practice pre-socialization. We train internal champions (“Liaisons”) at each corporation to canvas the business and uncover challenges. We make this a turn-key process by giving Liaisons an exact script to ask questions like “What’s the one thing you would do this year if you could extend your team?” and “What’s the one thing you haven’t figured out yet, that you think is a big opportunity?” We use this process to get early buy-in from internal stakeholders and to recruit startups that are solving those uncovered core business issues.

  2. Senior leadership must legitimize and support. C-suite level support can make a huge difference on garnering buy-in at all levels of the corporation. When leadership spreads the word that they want employees to work with startups, employees feel like they have permission to pursue what might otherwise be viewed as risky.

  3. Work from the bottom up. We train startups in storytelling, negotiation, and pilot design before any real meetings with the corporations happen. The corporations give the startups an overview of their company and a deep dive on the department each specific startup is best suited to meet with. With this knowledge, the startups create a one-pager that proposes how their product can specifically help that department. This method eliminates the basic startup pitch. Instead of the corporation just leaning back and listening, everybody at the table is ready to work through a demo and discuss how the startup’s product can be implemented. If there is an opportunity, it’s much faster to work toward a pilot.

  4. Reduce the friction. We document the entire process and give participants from both sides of the table as many tools as possible – spanning from pre-populated spreadsheets and internal communication copy, to one-pager examples. We are constantly capturing best practices across all teams and bringing them together frequently to discuss what is, and isn’t, working.

  5. Startups shouldn’t lead with a pitch. The Venture Capital pitching model is unproductive in the BridgeCommunity. We help both sides to understand that once they start to meet, it’s not about pitching, it’s about asking questions. We coach the corporations not to lean back and listen to a startup tell them about a new technology, but instead roll up their sleeves and see if there is a fit.

  6. The stage of the startup is important. If the startups are too young and there’s no product ready to pilot, the corporations end up mentoring and asking the startups to circle back once they have something useable. It’s a quick stop. Also, startups that are too far along are not a good fit for the program because the corporations no longer have first-mover advantage. We find startups that have a product, a validated business model, and at least one or two enterprise customers under their belt.

  7. Build empathy on both sides. We work with the corporations to get to “no” faster (when applicable) and discourage them from asking for free pilots. On the other hand, we prepare the startups to practice patience. Setting the right expectations up front helps everyone get the most out of the relationships.

  8. Create catalysts out of potential deal blockers.Employees who are in IT Security, Legal, and Procurement are paid to protect the company. Their default response often looks like “we can’t work with a company like that” or “you have to use the process we already have” (which is typically a deal-killing 50-page contract). We get these departments involved early in the startup commercialization process, before a pilot is even on the table. As a result, corporations in our program are using two-page Evaluation Agreements and setting up sidecar procurement processes to expedite pilots and reinforce that the startup relationships are exploratory in nature.

  9. The art of the pilot. Designing a pilot that runs from 1 to 3 months is imperative. Defining a longer pilot disrupts all of the systems that we have put in place to make the process easier. We also coach startups to build in automatic triggers at the end of a pilot that leads directly into a larger scale phase if metrics are hit. Without this in place, both parties will have to go through another iteration of contract negotiations and halt a successful partnership to do so.

  10. Peer to Peer learning. Peer learning is essential to making the program hum. Outside of working with startups, another benefit the corporations in the BridgeCommunity enjoy is observing how other corporations innovate. Corporate innovators often operate as lone wolves within their organizations – the BridgeCommunity gives them a network of people to share with and learn from.

If you think your corporation or startup is a good fit for the BridgeCommunity (now Techpublic), email Carie Davis at carie@techpublic.co and let her know what you are working on.

Carie Davis