The future of innovation: a roundtable

The future of innovation: a roundtable

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19bn in 2014, it changed how big business viewed smaller disruptors. With just 55 employees, WhatsApp was the archetypal startup – small, punchy and capable of delivering unparalleled industry innovation. This didn’t go unnoticed by Facebook, resulting in one of the biggest deals of the past five years.

But acquisition is just one piece of the corporate-startup puzzle. Today’s economy is ruled by partnerships between big and small businesses, which fuel innovation, spur growth and create the workplaces of the future.

Plexal – Part of Europe’s largest innovation ecosystem – recently gathered business leaders on the forefront of corporate and startup collaboration to discover what makes partnerships between ‘big’ and ‘small’, ‘blue chip’ and ‘young upstart’ succeed.

Attendees included CEOs, innovation directors and founders – with Microsoft, IBM, Samsung and M Squared Lasers, among others, represented.

Gathering at the Sky Garden, business leaders traded ideas and insights about the future of collaboration, the pace of technological change and the enduring importance of people.

The discussion revealed three key factors for creating an environment that spawns and fosters successful collaboration between businesses of different scales, industries, and approaches. The three factors are:


“I would challenge the view that corporates want startups to fail. The important thing is to figure out what the partnership looks like. Ask yourselves: what are the mutual touch points, what is your pain, and mine?” – Angela Bates, IBM

In today’s economy, partnerships are the route to commercial success. Growth and innovation depend on the ability of an organisation to collaborate with others – regardless of their size.

Embrace a culture of collaboration and develop practical frameworks that encourage partnerships and you can grant your organisation an innovative edge. That ranges from your procurement practices to the nature of your communications. But, take care that budding partnerships are not limited by familiar challenges, such as a lack of trust and mutual respect.

One business leader recalled how, as a startup founder, he had been treated as a ‘supplier, not a partner’ when it came to collaboration with a corporate. Another spoke of the lack of awareness that corporates can suffer about the financial realities of operating as a startup: “If something goes wrong, the corporate can simply move onto the next one, for a startup it could spell their end.” Regardless of which side of the fence your organisation sits on, embrace partnerships, position them at the heart of your business and you could get to the next level.


“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers, but most of all the world needs dreamers that do.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Organisations don’t innovate, people do. The success of any business rests on the people that work there and the culture that unites them. One business leader even went as far to say that culture is more important than innovation and strategy. Build teams where people come with ideas, action plans and the drive to implement them. ‘Dreamers that do’ are a hot commodity that any business is lucky to have.

Talent today is lighter of foot than ever before. To attract and retain the best talent, you must understand what motivates them and be ready to adapt when new projects or partners alter the workplace culture. One business leader spoke of the success of intrapreneur programmes in doing just that. She described intrapreneurs as the ‘positive troublemakers’ in an organisation and talked about how her organisation’s intrapreneur programme had helped drive a culture shift, which brought out the best in people and delivered measurable results for the business. Power to the people, indeed.


“Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to shift the mindset so that it is open to failure.” – Andrew Cunningham, Plexal

The pursuit of failure has fast become a recognised way of securing innovation and growth. Until recently, Facebook encouraged its developers with the mantra, ‘move fast and break things’. For a business, the potential benefits of failure need to be part of the collaboration equation. Importantly, treat failure as a friend, a mechanism to learn and get better.

Put the correct frameworks in place and you can take risks, safe in the knowledge that disruption will be mitigated and lessons learned for future success. The advice surrounding frameworks from assembled business leaders was to question and appreciate the pain points of your partners, understand what constitutes useful failure and, together, work to avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Failure is not the enemy of progress, agreed those present. In fact, there is significant value to be gained from failed attempts at innovation and collaboration. This value is maximised when there are structures in place to help organisations dodge repeated failure in the future.

These three factors emerged as significant and popular steps to improving corporate and startup collaboration. At Plexal, we provide an ecosystem and portfolio of services for technology startups, scale ups and corporate enterprise of all sizes to join forces, spark ideas and build new business. Everyday, we work to turn the challenges commonly associated with collaboration into opportunities and benefits.

Do you have any top tips for corporate-start up collaboration or experience leading an Intrapreneur programme? What have you learned from doing it? And, what would your advice be for others?

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