How Big Companies Innovate With Startups and SME’s


Share on LinkedIn

There are so many examples of big companies innovating with startups and SME’s and as this innovation dynamic grows and matures, we are also starting to see different ways in which this take place.

The examples I share below are divided into three main categories; accelerators and incubators, challenges and competitions and corporate venture. You can also argue that corporate platforms and portals for open innovation and collaboration are focused towards startups and SME’s to some extent.

The most active category is by far the accelerators and incubators. There are so many things going on right now that I wonder if we are seeing some kind of bubble or me-too effect. On the other hand, I really believe that many big companies can benefit from such activities if done right. The use of accelerators and incubators is here to stay as a key element of future open innovation programs.

Challenges and competitions by big companies are often broad in their focus, but there seems to be a tendency that they attract more and more startups and SME’s and thus they become more focused on this group.

Although, I still mention corporate venture in a separate category, it should be noted that the traditional corporate venture setup is changing fast. There seems to be more of a strategic rather than financial focus and corporate venture units seem more integrated with the corporate functions. In some ways, we can argue that corporate venture and open innovation are mixing together. Right now, corporate venture is primarily driven by really big companies that have been in the game for a long time, but we should see more activity here when the economy picks up again.

Here you get my overview on the three categories. Let me know if you can add some insights on this.

Accelerators and incubators:

An accelerator or incubator initiative is often based on a specific (stand-alone) team or unit within the big company that identifies startups with a strategic match and provides support, coaching, access to internal resources (relevant business units and functions), access to external partners and maybe also funding.

Some examples:

Wayra by Telefonica

Mondelez Mobile Futures

Cisco – Entrepreneurs in Residence

Microsoft Accelerator

Nike Fuel Lab

Shell Gamechanger

Disney Accelerator

Samsung Accelerator

Google for Entrepreneurs

Barclays Accelerator

You should check out these articles on accelerators and incubators:

What Corporate Incubators and Accelerators Mean for Your Business

 Every Corporation Needs an Accelerator Program
Tracking the corporate-supported startup accelerators

15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies and Startups

Partner Accelerators:

Several big companies have teamed up with partners to tap into the accelerator benefits. An example of such a partner accelerator is Rocket-Space, which lists themselves as a technology campus that connects tech startups, innovative corporate brands, accelerator program and entrepreneurs. Their corporate partners include Samsung, LEGO and Home Depot.

Techstars is a startup accelerator and seed investor, but they help big corporates set up accelerator programs. Some recent examples include Barclays, Microsoft and Disney.

Challenges and competitions:

Some companies are hosting challenges or competitions that are focused towards startups or potential startups.

Some examples:

Various challenges hosted by GE including the NFL Head Challenge

Nvidia Early Stage Challenge

Intuit Entrepreneur Days (now inactive, but still an interesting approach)

You should check out this article on challenges and competitions:

GE Ecomagination Challenge: More than Just Challenge Driven Innovation in Action

Corporate venture:

As I mentioned in the overview, the role, function and setup of corporate venture is changing, but it is still a key element for big companies to connect with startups. It is important to have in mind that if a big company structure their corporate venture efforts right, they do not only get investment opportunities that can help them hedge the future; they also get valuable insights that can help make their own innovation teams better.

Some examples of corporate venture units:

GE Ventures

Siemens Venture Capital

BASF Venture Capital

Cisco Investments

You should check out these articles on corporate venture:

• The New Strategic Intent of Corporate Venture Capital

• 5 Heavy-hitting corporate venture funds honing in on the Internet of Things

Portals and programs for open innovation and collaboration:

Besides the above categories and examples, we also see that many companies have portals for their open innovation efforts and their collaboration with external partners. Although, they are more broadly focused there is definitely lots of activity towards startups and SME’s.

Some examples include Akzo Nobel, Microsoft, Unilever, Philips, Samsung, Statoil and P&G. The corporate galleries at NineSights are also worth looking into.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


  1. Startups usually have great ideas but they usually have insufficient funds, that’s where the big companies chip in by funding the innovation ideas.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here