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How Startups Can Stay Close to Home With the Help of Corporate Partners

Patrick Riley
Patrick Riley

Keeping startups local could revive the global economy, and corporate partnerships help make that possible.

There's an assumption in the startup world that founders have to move to San Francisco, New York City, or another major hub in order to be successful. So you might be surprised to hear exactly how much of an impact a startup in the middle of Ireland can have – especially with the support of a corporate partner – and why staying put is so vital.

The benefits of staying close to home

Pest Pulse is headquartered in Dublin and is an alumnus of Start Co., an accelerator based in Memphis, Tennessee. Start Co. had already formed a strong relationship with ServiceMaster, the Fortune 1000 parent company of businesses like Terminix, by the time Pest Pulse was in the program. This existing relationship enabled Start Co. to introduce the well-established corporate, ServiceMaster, to the rising startup, Pest Pulse. ServiceMaster loved what Pest Pulse was up to so much that they decided to work together on a pilot. In doing so, the relationship proved to be successful in that it allowed Pest Pulse to build its product and increase its revenue without having to move out of Dublin.

Staying at home doesn't just benefit the startup, though. Whether they're in small Midwestern cities or on the coast of Ireland, startups can be especially important for their local economy because they give employees the means to save money and earn a living, equipping them to build wealth for not only their families, but also their communities.

For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, startups were responsible for creating 14,575 jobs locally in 2017. Further, a Kauffman Report from two years earlier found that the only net new jobs created in recent years came from companies no more than five years old, showing that startups are job creators.

However, help from larger companies can increase a startup's revenue, validate its business model and provide much-needed cash. This form of financial giving, in turn, creates companies that positively contribute jobs and resources to their local communities.

A few years back, I spoke with John Coors, grandson of Coors brewery magnate Adolph Coors, in depth about the different ways financial giving takes shape. One was wealth distribution, a more standard charity model, like making a donation to the American Red Cross after a natural disaster. Money comes into a city from other regions and supports those in need.

While wealth distribution is, of course, wonderful for many reasons, it doesn't generate any additional money or more jobs  for individuals or communities. Wealth creation, on the other hand, can and does. It's generative.

For example, when an investor infuses capital into a local startup, the startup then uses that money for hiring from the community. Products or services from that company are then sold, allowing the company to earn more money, provide more income and wealth to its employees and offer more benefits for the community. Then the process is repeated again and again.

Investment capital and corporate partnerships can be equally catalytic, propelling startups much further and faster than they often make it on their own. But corporate partnerships can gain startups instant traction and add community benefit in a way investment capital can't: with revenue.

Large corporations can provide revenue to startups that make it possible for them to pay team member salaries and create more jobs. This gives people the means to support their families and invest in what matters to them while also giving the local community the potential to thrive. It ensures startups in places like Dublin, Reykjavík or Milwaukee can stay exactly where they are instead of having to move to London or Tokyo to find success.

As a result, these partnerships benefit startups, corporations and the global economy in transformative ways.

How startups can partner with corporations to fuel the global economy

If you want to begin working with a corporate partner as a way of not only building your business, but also creating opportunities across the world, follow these four steps:

1. Connect the right teams

Making connections is one of the most important parts of forming a partnership with a corporation. When corporations operate in a silo, only focusing on their internal operations, they can miss the potential to innovate and grow with organizations like yours.

How can you best make that connection? Start by doing your due diligence. You, as the founder, know your product or technology better than anyone, so you want to be sure that you can actually help solve innovation problems for the corporation you're considering reaching out to. If you know it's a good fit, the next step is finding the decision maker to reach out to, which can be the hardest part of the process. Do a quick Google search first. If you don't find a contact through that route, check the corporation's website for pages on innovation, and use LinkedIn to look for job titles related to "innovation," "strategy" and "startup."

When you do connect with corporations, you help them strengthen their businesses. The best have innovation teams that are ready to bring together an internal business unit with a startup that can best meet its needs. So ensuring that you, as a partner, are ready to show where your product, service or expertise can fill holes and help the corporation grow is key to getting started on the right foot.

2. Communicate clearly

Being honest tends to be the right approach to everything in life. Honesty is the best policy, after all. That saying holds true when corporate partners and startups come together, too. You have to first and foremost be transparent about what you do well and what you don't do well in order to successfully work with a corporation to meet your goals.

Also, always keep your audience in mind: large corporations that mostly know their own business. Ensure that you're communicating how your technology is beneficial to the organization and how it can save time and expenses. Really dive into how what you offer is unique and can help smooth out internal processes.

Most importantly, stay open with your corporate partner as you grow and change. If you see something that could pose a challenge to you, the corporation or the relationship, don't keep that to yourself. Communicate clearly so the work you do together has a real chance of being great.

3. Identify your goals

Any time you're heading in a new direction, it helps to have an idea of how to get there. To make a relationship work between you and a corporate partner, sit down and think through your goals for the work you'll do together. Having a long-term plan comprised of clear goals is a major part of establishing a good, fruitful relationship.

That plan will come from in-depth discussions with your corporate partners. Make sure you're all aligned on what your goals are in working together, and don't close the conversation until you feel completely comfortable that you can deliver on your promise. Even more than that, determine what the consequences will be if you don't hit the marks you set together.

Remember, too, that having goals helps you build a foundation of trust with one another. If you have taken the time to outline where your partnership should be heading, you'll have set yourself up to believe in the other and know that you're on the same page.

4. Measure and check in

Finally, keep in mind that you can only know whether you're fulfilling your goals if you can measure results and progress. You can't determine whether a goal is complete if you don't know how to measure success.Set aside time with your corporate partner to review goals regularly and track your progress. Checking in quarterly or even biweekly should be part of your routine and will allow you to see whether there are any problems or adjustments that need to be made.

People appreciate startups not only for their exciting products, but also for the innovation they bring to the table. But imagine the possibilities if people thought of these young companies not just for their creativity, but also for the value and life they bring to their communities — especially when corporations support them. Keeping startups local could very well be the thing that revives the global economy one community at a time, and corporate partnerships are the key to making that possible.

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Patrick Riley
Patrick Riley Member
Patrick Riley is the CEO of GAN,a highly curated community of the world’s best independent accelerators, a growing set of innovative and values-minded corporate partners, and an investment arm called GAN Ventures. GAN’s sole purpose is to connect the world’s innovators so that startups around the world have access to the human and financial capital needed to build powerful businesses and make a meaningful impact, wherever they call home.