7 Questions Corporations Need to Ask Before Piloting with a Startup

Holding roughly 8,000 meetings between our corporate partners and startups annually, we have been privileged to have a front row seat to their interactions. Of course, not every interaction ends smoothly so we thought it would be helpful to summarize some of the questions a corporation should think about prior to and during a startup engagement. Here are 7 questions every corporation needs to ask before piloting with a startup: 


1. What exactly are you looking for? 

We find that this is often the most pressing question when an organization is so large and distributed. Some of our partners, like P&G and Mars, have a briefing system whereby each business unit submits areas they are interested in and how exactly they want to tackle it. Other partners hold quarterly C-Level meetings where they identify the weaknesses of the business and how startups could potentially solve that. Startups do not operate like corporations; they have short lifelines and time cannot be wasted with a corporation that is unsure of their needs. 


2. Which business units (BU) need to get involved/what is my buy-in needed?

Knowing prior which business units need to get involved streamlines the pilot-process after successful meetings with a startup. We recommend you create “sprints for innovation”, focusing on a specific pinging point in collaboration with a specific business unit. This way the innovation team and the BU can source collaboratively, rather than blindsiding the other in siloed efforts. 


3. Does the startup need personably identifiable information and/or payments in any way?

Compliance teams are generally very strict on technology in this space. Understanding the parameters of the compliance teams’ diligence solves a bunch of later problems. 


4. How quick will my time be and do I need to shorten various documentation? 

A 50+ page Master Services Agreement is not something a startup can easily digest. Shortening the vendor diligence and keeping documentation light yet thorough ensures a valuable relationship. 


5. What is our pilot process? 

Laying out the parameters of a pilot clearly to a startup makes sure all resources are available from day one. Some of our partners have a zero-pay pilot process, where they do not pay for a pilot and only test for 2 weeks to determine if it is something to deploy in a larger fashion. 


6. Does it actually integrate? Every startup says they do.

Startups often say they integrate with existing enterprise infrastructure yet at time of implementation a whole host of problems can occur. An understanding of how custom your ERP or CRM or other enterprise infrastructure is like can save a lot of time at deployment. 


7. What is our post-pilot strategy? Map it out. 

Enterprise startups know all too well of POC Hell. It’s a time when corporations decide to test out a startup’s technology but have no clear post-pilot strategy. Certain corporations are even known by startups for actively testing new technology but never deploying fully. You don’t want to be on this blacklist not only for a negative reputation but also for stagnating on innovation. A clear direction for post-pilot needs to come from the C-level and executing via various business units; innovation teams need buy-in and teamwork for effectiveness. 


TLDR: Communicate with business units on actual needs, collaborate in targeted efforts, have a clear post-pilot strategy. Also, transparency and quickness is the name of the game! 

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