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Malena's Brands with Purpose vs Purposeless Brands

How Big companies can empower small start ups

June 12th, 2017 · No Comments

Large, established companies may have their challenges, but they also have access to capital, industry experience and strong professional networks — three key ingredients emerging businesses need.

I believe companies can share these valuable assets with startups to benefit both, bringing vital finance and know-how to new businesses, and helping established ones to innovate and rejuvenate. Big businesses with a clear purpose can bring value, serving as a facilitator of growth — both internal and external.

How can they do this?

FINANCIAL SUPPORT — Obvious, but important. Many large corporations act as venture capital funds, investing in startups as a way of boosting innovation when internal innovation grows stagnant. Others do this to adapt both their ways of working and their brand image, such as John Lewis. The UK retailer launched JLab in 2014, partly as a result of wanting to be seen as a leader in the retail technology space. JLab offers 12 weeks of mentoring and the chance of a store contract, as well as a £100,000 investment in exchange for equity in the startup — a much-needed capital boost to growing companies.
NETWORKING – Sometimes it really is about who you know. Companies can open up their established little black books to help entrepreneurs connect with investors or other startups. Take for example Google for Entrepreneurs, Google’s initiative that harks back to its own humble startup beginnings. Google for Entrepreneurs links entrepreneurs to existing startup communities, and builds “Campuses” where they can connect, share ideas and collaborate. Under a credible umbrella, start-ups are also better able to connect to funds and resources.
MENTORING — One huge advantage of being an established company is having in-house expertise, which can be shared with up-and-coming businesses. Dell’s Founders 50 provides exactly that for high-growth startups. The program offers mentorship and networking opportunities to drive growth. Dell provides an “internal champion” as a mentor for its Founders 50 members, giving advice to businesses at crucial stages in their development. The initiative builds on Dell’s history of supporting entrepreneurs both within and outside the company, reflecting its self-stated status as the “biggest startup in the world.”
CREDIBILITY — Half the battle of transforming a business venture into reality is persuading the market that you’re a viable, plausible entity. Being vetted or taken under the wing of a trusted brand can give startups an enormous credibility boost. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards, for example, gives financial support and mentoring to winners, with the bonus of accredited validation. The award also gives Unilever credibility, presenting the company as supportive of the innovators and initiatives that are aligned to their own sustainability commitments.
TECHNOLOGY/ PLATFORM – Facebook, no stranger to startup culture, has launched FbStart, a platform that provides mobile app startups with free tools and services that help them to excel. The mentoring and connections allow new apps to exclusively build on the platform while also engaging with established developers.
The flow of benefits is not just a one-way street — entrepreneurs can provide a substantial amount to the large corporations that support them, enabling transformation and encouraging experimentation.

Take for example The Unilever Foundry, launched in 2014, which mentors and invests in digital media startups, helping them to scale up and giving them access to the myriad Unilever brands. Unilever gains an enormous amount from The Foundry in terms of access to innovative marketing technology. The entrepreneurs involved share their knowledge and offer more efficient, effective and sustainable ways of reaching out to consumers – something Unilever specifically seeks out. Let’s not forget that Unilever ensures that these startups share their purpose, passion and vision for social impact, meaning that their collaboration really does have the potential to generate change.

At Shell, I’ve seen the wonderful results of big business, small startup collaborations first hand through our #makethefuture program; but it’s certainly not our only platform to empower others. We offer a breadth of solutions to support startups at all stages of their development, from LiveWIRE, which gives early stage online business advice and funding to young entrepreneurs, to Shell Technology Ventures, which provides funding, expertise and access to our wide energy network for the participating pioneering energy companies.

And one of my personal favorites — our Shell Springboard program gives no-strings-attached funding to emerging businesses that demonstrate commercially viable, low-carbon solutions with a social impact. Deciwatt, the 2015 Shell Springboard National Winner, has already made a huge impact in communities living without electricity through GravityLight, a truly novel concept that generates electricity, providing a safe alternative to kerosene lamps. To celebrate, we recently commenced a 50-night tour of 50 different Kenyan towns, showcasing the technology and installing it in homes across the country.

It’s gratifying to not only see, but enable, such ground-breaking technology in action —but it’s not always easy.

It can be challenging for big companies tied to shareholders and stakeholders to foster entrepreneurship with startup support. But, whether you’re investing your brand’s time, money or credibility, the investment towards innovation is worth it.

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