Last week we at GROW hosted our #2 Future Proof Seminar on the topic “be BIG and small” together with our friends on the recently launched initiatives PINC and SPARX, both sharing the purpose of enabling collaboration between large corporations and the Start-Up community for mutual benefit in growing innovation capability and opportunity. One in the shape of an Incubator, the other in the form of an Accelerator Program. In the audience we also had some startups sharing their thoughts and needs. We’ve summarised a few reflections below.
Why collaborate?

Many “large” organisations find themselves falling behind in the fast paced race that the current fragmented and unpredictable marketplace has become. Their insight and innovation processes in combination with production capabilities create silos or closed eco-systems rather than enable new opportunities. The very same system that was supposed to enable unlimited scaling and production capabilities has become a constraint for innovation.
On the other hand, they still host ever-relevant networks and structures for growth that small startups will have to build and learn if they are to thrive over time. Collaboration can allow both parties to benefit – the Startups to get access to a green-house environment to grow in, while the large corporation can focus on their core business while adding adding agility and relevance to their innovation game. In the long run the potential benefits of strengthening/starting to create an innovation culture in the ‘big company’ should not be underestimated, neither should the employer branding benefits that can follow from this type of initiative.
How to do it?
Understanding the cultural differences is key as is setting up systems for longevity – avoiding the “external” business (i.e Incubator) to be too isolated from the daily business of the large corporation while still keeping it agile and entrepreneurial. To large extent this means that the hosting part (the large corporation) must take time to understand the needs and drivers of the startups, to shape the offer in a way that it becomes clear they are not doing this to steal ideas, but actually to grow them. The same goes the other way around, to make the startups understand the business reality and value the expertise from bigger company. This also has an impact on how to measure success and setting up KPIs. Both parties (Paulig and Sodexo) claimed that their initiatives success are not measured by strict ROI, but rather through number of successful partnerships – where success needs to be defined for each project. Both PINC and SPARX are shaped as their own brands, but with strong links back to the mother organisation, to allow them to act independently but with a logic connection enabling value creation both up- and downstream.
Launching an initiative like this is to a high extent a timing issue. When the opportunity arises, when the internal understanding and acceptance is right, you need to act fast to seize the moment. This is a step by step process of going from rationally and emotionally explaining the ‘why should we’ to creating feasible options of how to get started and to conceptualize these to increase engagement. Another crucial factor is to allow the initiative itself to be prototyped, to not sit and wait for a best practice study but rather try, reshape, try again and keep going. Taking help from an external partner (such as ourselves) can help frame and shape the program to get a head start.
What are the benefits?
Executed well these programs create, not only a clear break to the status quo in their innovation game, but also employee engagement and excitement as well as external communication opportunities and potential for future business propositions. For the start-up it means an opportunity to get a head start in learning the strategies and structures it needs to learn regardless when scaling up, as well as a much needed friend or supportive big sibling in the business. In short – a true win-win. And most of all, a neccessarity for creating sustainable innovations and innovation systems.