The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.
When we launched The Brandery in 2010, we knew we had to play to the strengths of Cincinnati. This meant leveraging the Fortune 500’s (or BigCo’s) and the incredible design and creative community that serves them. The C-suite at the BigCo’s were eager to write us meaningful sponsorship checks and helped us welcome our companies to town by hosting them at ball games and other social activities. In return, the BigCo’s employees interacted with The Brandery’s talented team, learning about “innovation” and “startup culture.” There’s no doubt we both added a bit of value to one another, but it didn’t really move the needle for the startups.
What did move the needle was developing meaningful, collaborative relationships with the BigCo’s. Fostering these relationships with BigCo’s not only helped The Brandery, but also enriched the startup ecosystem in Cincinnati. Here was our approach:
Capital: Many BigCo’s have existing venture groups with access to plenty of capital, but they can often lack clear directive for those investments. Conversely, startups are always on the hunt for capital and have developed a vast network of expertise in this area from the VC’s and Angels that support them. By connecting BigCo’s with your network, we can serve your ecosystem and the BigCo’s investment strategy.
Mentorship: Nothing fosters a collaborative relationship like mentors. Developing C-suite mentors can create powerful champions for your startup. These relationships take time to identify and form, but the investment is time well-spent for cultivating a startup-friendly ecosystem in your community.
Pilots & Commercial Opportunities: As your relationships with BigCo’s begin to grow, partner with these firms in pilot programs so they can see how your startup can really add value. After a successful pilot, convert these BigCo’s into paying customers. They will benefit from your expertise while you see growing revenue numbers and impressive additions to your clientele list.
M&A: Think acquisition from a BigCo could be in your future? Successful exits can take startup ecosystems to the next level. In addition to adding potentially immense value to the BigCo that acquires them, the creation of wealth within the startup inevitably trickles back into the ecosystem from a new Angel or the next generation of self-funded founders.
Startups aren’t the only ones who can create an entrepreneurial ecosystem for your community. BigCo’s can provide incredible value as well; so give them a seat at the table. A healthy relationship will make everyone prosper.