Rethinking corporate innovation at Techstars

At Techstars, we’re building the best global ecosystem for founders to bring new technologies to market. One of the impacts that I think we’ll have long term is to change the way that corporations engage with startups. We want to help make those engagements effective and efficient for both parties. We do this in a few different ways.

First, we have an internal team of five people that focus on corporate relationships. They’re the folks who do amazing things like BizDevDay at Foundercon where there were 1500 meetings in a single day between big companies and our portfolio. They also work on M&A when necessary, and we recently completed our 100th M&A transaction out of the Techstars portfolio. They have deep relationships with most of the important large corporations in our space, and are constantly making connections to Techstars companies. From the large corporations perspective, they might think of this activity as corporate development or “corpdev.” We think of it as leveraging our scale to assist our portfolio of amazing startups.

Second, we partner with large corporations to build accelerators, like Techstars Music, Techstars Mobility, or Techstars IoT.  In working with so many large corporate partners, we’ve learned that some of them engage with these accelerators with a short term view, and some with a long term view. Let me explain.

When a corporate engages with an accelerator or with startups in , their short term view might entail them thinking about which one or two of these companies could “move the needle” for their stock, or fill some current strategic gap. They engage with the accelerator as if their job is to cherrypick. That’s all well and fine and it produces near term results in many cases, but it’s also short term thinking.

Other partners engage with a long term view. They lean in, and #givefirst which may at first feel somewhat alien to them. In this mode, the partner is thinking about how this could impact their business in 5, 10, or 20 years. They’re thinking about the startup ecosystem they are building around their own company, technology, and areas of interest. They’re trying to grow more cherries to pick later. The long term thinkers understand that current opportunities are only a small part of their role in growing an ecosystem around themselves. They lean in long term.

Startups are a long game, not a short one. As our partners actively re-think what corporate innovation means, they’re learning that it’s about both long and short term focus. They’re learning that they need corpdev programs that move the needle now, but they also need to grow the right ecosystems around themselves. And that times time, and patience. It takes good and helpful behavior around startups with a 20 year view. They are learning to be consistent in their approach to #givefirst. They are learning to leverage startups for innovation. And when they get it, when they start thinking long term in the context of startups… it’s pure magic.

 

 

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About David Cohen

Geek. Hacker. Investor. Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars.

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  • Tim Schigel

    That’s a great way to frame it David! It would be interesting to hear about some example success stories.

    • http://techstars.com/ DavidCohen

      there are many short term examples in my world. sphero being a notable one. and many of the 100+ Techstars companies that have now been acquired are examples in some cases. the longer term examples are harder to come by as they take time to develop (we haven’t played in this space for more than a few years) but i think we will have many over time.


      David Cohen
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      Techstars
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