For the first time, NTT i3 curated and participated in a panel at SxSW held last week in Austin, TX. In addition to CEO Nina Simosko, we brought together a diverse panel of SxSW veterans and newbies from across the US and Europe, with experience both in the startup community and as operators in large enterprise organizations. Journalist and startup advisor Chris Shipley served as moderator of the four-person panel that also included NTT i3 advisory board member Aric Dromi and Cintrifuse CEO and former Silicon Valley startup CEO Wendy Lea.
With both big companies and tech startups evenly represented by session attendees, the panel discussed and fielded questions about the new ways that these kinds of companies can work together, which would reflect the market and culture shifts that are demanding movement from old vendor-client to new equal partner relationships.
“We’re going to have a conversation about what may be in some worlds ‘impossible alchemy.’ When you take small companies and try to bring them together to work effectively with big companies, you’re asking two cultures to do something really different. Small company innovation by definition is messy and disorganized. It moves from chaos to some sort of more organized structure. Corporations start with a structure and process focus and move to efficiency and scale. These are two different operating principles. But we (the panel) think that you can make that connection work.” – Chris Shipley
Wendy Lea has taken her Silicon Valley startup experience to Cincinnati-based Cintrifuse with the mandate of bringing ‘economic vibrancy through startup innovation’ to Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. She calls it ‘her best job ever’ – growing the number of startups involved in this program from 11 to over 470, including 99 engagements and paid pilots with large global organizations including P&G. With big companies (140 of them) and the business and social fabric of the Midwest a major driver for her work, Wendy has found that there is a need for startups to more deeply understand the business needs of a potential big company partner if they want to eventually secure a partnership or customer relationship – The typical Silicon Valley PowerPoint deck and demo doesn’t work in her part of the country where maturity and patience are valued. And the big company needs to look at its capabilities around legal, financial, and procurement agreements and how aligned they are with the way startups need to work. Wendy said: “It takes time, a lot of communications … and true collaboration – meaning understanding each other’s needs, timeframes, and being able to give and take openly.”
Nina Simosko echoed Wendy’s theme of the lessons of time, patience and collaboration in the story of a startup, CliQr, and how it worked with NTT i3 engineers, received investment from NTT’s venture arm, and was eventually acquired by Cisco. Her story demonstrated the value of that early collaboration between engineers that eventually delivered significant industry visibility into the Cisco ecosystem for the startup. In addition to technology, other success factors for startup-big company collaboration are around understanding people and the conditions of ideal partnerships, as well as the startup knowing how it stacks up in the global competitive space not just the US.
Aric Dromi’s take on startups and big companies focused on the theme of ‘friction’ and his lack of belief in the value of the job title ‘innovation manager.’ Aric believes in addressing the ‘Why’ (market friction points) of the company’s efforts and how that is so much more important than the ‘What’ of the technology. Clearly articulating the need (friction) that is being addressed is the best way for companies to identify the ways that they can be aligned and work together. From Aric’s perspective, innovation is about “the ability of management to monetize creativity.” And the ideas that spring from that creativity have to be connected to a goal (the why) for organizations to work together effectively.
Drawing from audience questions, the issue of collaboration failure and culture building were common concerns. Nina addressed the issue of failure and the philosophy that there is always something of value in it – you just might not know the timing. Chris reminded all that “Culture is the operating system by which a company works… You can’t just attach innovation to your culture. There needs to be a culture change.”
For a playlist of all of the SxSW panel videos included in this post, click here.