Corporate + Startup Partnerships: What Corporates Need to Know

Tips for Corporates

At Greentown Labs, we have the privilege of working with our corporate partners and startups within our Greentown Launch program to forge corporate partnerships. Our Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, Katie MacDonald, has compiled a few lessons for corporates pursuing startup partnerships. This is ‘Part 1’ of our two-part blog series focused on how to forge corporate + startup partnerships.

Explain who you are

Corporates in the energy and technology fields have a diverse range of internal decision making structures. Our more than 35 corporate partners at Greentown Labs are all extremely different in many ways from what they DO as a core business all the way to HOW they do it. If these structures feel confusing to you as an employee within a large organization, you can bet entrepreneurs are overwhelmed. When starting any interaction with a startup or ecosystem partner, articulate your company structure, identify and name key decision makers and illustrate the relationships and connections that exist internally. If your innovation group(s) don’t have an explicit presentation that outlines these features of your business and how they relate to your external and internal innovation functions, create it. This will become an invaluable tool for setting expectations, explaining internal dynamics and helping startups understand who holds the power to execute partnerships and investments. Being able to share these details signals to the innovation community that you’re a self aware organization that is ready, in earnest, to engage with startups.

Open your toolbox

Corporate partners are often positioned to offer a multitude of obvious and non-obvious resources to startups. As a corporate innovation leader, its critical to express and explain the toolbox your entity has and how to unlock it’s contents. Taking startups through each relevant internal resource and each potential partnership outcome with your organization (investment, pilot, JDA, licensing, M&A, technical projects, in-kind support, etc.) will ensure that startups have the full picture of what is possible in mind when they begin engaging with your team.

Describe success

Every company has different cultural values that govern how they do business and how external innovation tasks and priorities are set and achieved. If your entity has a track record of working with startups, explain some ‘best in class’ examples of startups who worked well with your team and achieved tangible results. What did the founding team(s) do well when approaching your team? How did they successfully navigate your internal structure and appeal to decision makers? What was the final partnership outcome they reached with you? Why is this outcome seen as a success for your organization? What has NOT worked in the past? Detailing case study examples helps entrepreneurs understand how they should develop and message their partnership strategy with you. This will save everyone a lot of time. In addition to explaining how the organization is set up to support startups, explain YOUR role. What are your KPI’s? What do YOU care about? What does your boss care about? Invite entrepreneurs to listen to what drives your business and see if they use and retain that information.

Establish degree centrality   

Innovation leaders within corporates often have the difficult mandate of growing a rare plant species (their innovation group) within soil that is accustomed to said organism. This means they need to defend the strategic value of their innovation initiatives (think ‘not invented here’) while convincing internal teams from business units and executives that this work deserves their time and money on an ongoing basis. We’ve found that the innovation teams that are most successful start their activities by choosing an innovation area core to a receptive business unit, creating demonstrable results in the form of innovation partnerships within said areas and then grow their activities within the organization into new focal areas which enables further awareness of their activities impact on the success of the core business. While some organizations do have executive support for innovation activities and systemic awareness of their existence internally, we always recommend that business unit leaders and middle managers be invited to participate in external innovation activities on a rolling basis to ensure ongoing respect and awareness of the innovation team’s work. This increases exposure to the startup community AND strengthens the relationships between internal business leaders and your external innovation team.

How we can help 

Greentown Labs proudly boasts a nearly 70% success rate from all of our Greentown Launch programs and we believe the tips outlined above play a critical role in developing successful partnerships between corporates and startups. If you’re interested in learning more about our Greentown Launch programs, please watch this video with Schneider Electric, this video with DSM, or reach out to us at

Tips for startups

We recognize mutually beneficial partnerships require equal effort from both parties involved: the corporate and the startup! With this in mind, Katie has compiled tips for startups which will be published next week — keep an eye on our Twitter feed for that post soon!