Cleantech Group‘s Greg Neichin opened up this morning’s panel “Startups and Corporations: Bringing Clean Technology to Market” with an important observation. The cleantech market, and certainly the broader energy energy space is a bit different when it comes to getting big companies in the same room with startups.
“For the most part, they tend to get along,” he told a packed session.
Nike’s Dan Cherian described its approach to working with startups, quickly dispelling the notion that its startup relationships are purely investment-oriented.
“We don’t just do investments, we’re involved in things like licensing, joint development agreements and strategic alliances, ” Cherian explained. “Not all of our innovation happens inside the company, we think of it as strategic partnering and investing,” he added. As Cherian summarized Nike’s view, it was clear the company sees sustainability as as a growth opportunity, with Cherian saying Nike is “heavily invested” in helping the company grow through sustainable business.
Intel’s Lorie Wigle, the company’s GM of Eco-Tech, said much of its startup work is focused on energy efficiency. Specifically, her team looks at the application of technology and how to grow revenue. Wigle mentioned a joint project with KLG Systal that tackled water management. Through KLG and other partners, Intel was able to see their technology implemented in different ways, underscoring the importance of tightening up your partner network before approaching larger corporations.
“Many startups make the mistake of thinking ‘we got the meeting’ and the ”number of meetings’ are a good metric for progress,” said Yusuf. His assertion was those elements have nothing to do with success . “It gets down to can the corporation sell more of their product because of what you do.”
Nike’s Cherian concurred, urging young companies to make their objectives very clear. “If your objectives are clear, we (Nike) have the right people in place for you to interface with”, he explained. He says Nike has three or four areas set up within the company to address various segments of innovation.
“Even if you talk to the business development group or venture unit, you have to realize they might not have the decision-making capability, ” he said. “When we get a message from a company, we apply that correspondence to whichever filter is the best fit.” Cherian added one other tidbit for the startup crowd: get a recommendation. He said even the slightest nod from a known partner or third-party can help startups in the early cycles with various corporate groups.
Another key discussion was the role large corporations can play in developing industry standards.
Streetline’s Yusuf mentioned their partnership with IBM, where they’ve integrated Big Blue’s Cognos platform. He stressed how important it was to understand the dynamics of the marketplace and who’s pushing open technology.
“Startups should know who leads the market and what products are innovating, ” said Yusuf. “IBM would love to sell us a bunch of their products, but we know which pieces of their platform help us solve our customers’ problems.”
Intel’s Wigle mentioned the company’s involvement in the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and how much intelligence it’s captured from the ecosystem as technology is commercialized. Because Intel has some much infrastructure that startups need, the company established its own incubation program, of sorts. Technology Days brings together startups in Intel’s portfolio and allows them to make their pitch. Not only can Intel share its R&D practices and standards work, but young companies get a purview of what’s coming down the technology pipe.
The panel bridged some of the standards discussion with a few examples of where data and technology are currently coming together for disruption. All of them agreed the “internet of things” was shaking things up the most around cleantech innovation. With smart sensors, advanced levels of automation, and the move to open data, companies like Fitbit and Nest were cited as two companies capitalizing on the standards push.
If startups should come away with anything, it’s take the time to get your ship in order before approaching the big guys. If you’re focused, have the right partners, and understand protocol, they’re listening.