Corporate Innovation Through Working With Startups

Giant Spanish companies such as Telefónica, Gas Natural Fenosa, CaixaBank, Aigües de Barcelona and SEAT shared in 4YFN their Open Innovation strategy and how they work with startups, real-life examples of key success factors, do’s and don’ts and some practical hints to succeed in a must-have initiative for corporates.

Five takeaways:


Internal R&D is not enough; large corporations are taking an external approach to develop new businesses or improving the existing one by doing open innovation. There are many different models to engage externally, there is not a one size fits all method, and every corporation is using its own ranging from scouting missions, accelerators, pilots with startups, corporate venture capital programs, etc.


In most cases, corporations are able to provide market and client access in a more agile way to startups than funding. This opportunity can be leveraged by startups via a pilot to prove results in front of the corporation, gain trust and get to understand the processes and structure the corporate has to assess long time collaboration.


Corporations need to change the internal entrepreneurial mindset and be less risk adverse. It’s important to get talent from the outside who has hands on experience with the entrepreneur world and combine it with internal talent who understands very well the corporation.

“What works for us is to go to our board of directors and explain the business plan for the next 12 months. As a startup would. This way the risk perception of our board is smaller. When the idea works, we ask for more money, otherwise we shut it down”, says one of the speakers.


Although some projects could be solely developed by the corporate, time to market is critical and thus startups or sturt-up culture can be the perfect solution. “We are launching a challenge for the startups on how can we help our clients in saving up in their energy bills”. “We are looking for IoT, Virtual Reality, Agumented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain applications for our business”


Two are the main roadblocks in corporate startup collaboration. (1) Difference of speeds: startups are focused on immediate results, corporates in long term goals and long term relations with clients; (2) Decision making process involves only 2-3 people in a startups vs many departments in the corporate world. Each party needs to adapt to the other’s nature.

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