SxWild West: Three tips for brand/start-up collaborations at SxSW | M&M Global

SxWild West: Three tips for brand/start-up collaborations at SxSW

Johnny Hammond, head of Unilever Foundry, offers words of advice for those attending the SxSW technology fiesta in Austin, Texas, over the coming days.

Jonathan Hammond

Can you feel it coming?  The excitement and euphoria of a new SxSW. The tech world’s fashion week where the world’s best start-ups get to parade their latest collections in front of adoring fans and admiring corporates.

But just like the gold rush of the 1800s, how do you make sure you strike gold and not buy snake oil?  Or in technology terms, how do you spot a tech tourist and find the business critical, not the business mythical.

Three years into creating Unilever Foundry, Unilever’s global start-up innovation platform, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to succeed in corporate/start-up collaboration.

We’ve commissioned global research into the peaks and pitfalls of the space. As we head into a new SxSW, we’re sharing the three tips you need to survive the Wild West and prosper in the new land.

1 – Avoid the tech tourists

There’s nothing worse than that feeling of rejection when the initial sparks of a first project with a dream corporate partner fizzle out prematurely.

Avoid corporates out to milk your businesses for PR and exposure. With nearly three quarters (69%) of brand managers citing exposure/publicity as one of the most important reasons to work together, seek out those looking for a lasting relationship not profiting from a quick fling. Nobody likes a tech tourist.

2 – Be realistic

Heads of innovation wax lyrical about the importance of having “a proposition you are really confident in” before reaching out to a corporate. Never underestimate the impact of showing revenues – it can make your make your case stronger and give you the edge against competition.

Are you ready to scale up, grow and impact a brand’s bottom line? Be honest with yourself about your business offering. If there are still creases in your model then don’t even think about facing a corporate before they’re ironed out.

“You’re not going to revolutionise Unilever’s business model. However, you may have a brilliant new consumer profiling tool which could save the company thousands”

Brand managers tell us that they look for performance, presentation and professionalism: Make sure you’re armed with the ‘three P’s’ before you put yourself in the ring.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but nearly half (47%) of corporates state the lack of these qualities as a key barrier to partnering with start-ups. Master the basics to make your proposition stand out.

Let’s be honest, you’re not going to revolutionise Unilever’s business model. However, you may have a brilliant new consumer profiling tool which could save the company thousands. Pitch for a specific business problem, make it easy for the corporate to see why you’re indispensable.

3 – Overcoming your differences

‘Procurement processes’ – the two words that fill a start-up with dread. Start-ups believe that corporates “just need to be a little more flexible” when it comes to the day-to-day ways of working.

Interestingly, corporates tend to agree, with over three quarters of brand managers (75%) admitting that difficulties in working with start-ups comes down to complex legal procurement process.

Ensure you don’t lose momentum and get left hanging by being realistic about your inherent differences from the start.

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to embark into the unknown, make sure you keep these three things front of mind when chatting up those key contacts.

Wise-up to corporates jumping on the innovation bandwagon and find those that are in the driving seat, avoid those tech tourists. Be realistic about your offering and master the three P’s. Finally, overcome your differences to ensure an innovation match that will make you scale up, not sink.

More insights from the global research will be revealed at SxSW where I will be on the panel ‘Play Forward: Why What & How of Brands & Start-ups’ at 5.00-6.00, 12 March alongside Karmarama’s Lawrence Weber and Mondelez’s Barry Calpino.

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