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What’s the secret to successful scale-up and corporate collaboration?

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When startups and corporates collaborate, the result can be a mutually beneficial partnership that brings innovation and agility to the established brand while giving the startup the support it needs to grow and scale. But what form should that collaboration take? We put the question to startup innovation consultancy Eatable Adventures and flavour supplier Givaudan.

Eatable Adventures is a Madrid-based accelerator and strategic innovation consultant. It helps startups partner with corporates through a variety of projects ranging from scouting to open innovation portals. Eatable Adventures currently works with over 25 food corporations and, in 2021 alone, its team analysed more than 2,000 technology-driven food startups for its corporate clients. Recently, it worked with Spanish dairy company Pascual to create Mylkubator, a global incubator specialised in cellular agriculture and precision fermentation solutions for the dairy sector.   

Switzerland-headquartered Givaudan is a major global flavour and fragrance supplier which actively works with startups.  In 2020, it set itself the objective of building a global community of innovators – including industry partners, academia, and startups – to improve its capabilities in alternative proteins. As part of this project, it partnered with Redefine Meat, an Israeli company that uses 3D printing to make plant-based meat, to ensure the final ‘Alt-Steak’ product had the same taste, flavour, and aroma as real steak.  

Create a sandbox for safe scale-up  

We ask Mila Valcárcel, managing partner and co-founder at Eatable Adventures and Startup Innovation Challenge jury member, what the best form of collaboration between startups and corporates is.   

There is really no single answer to recommend the best tool,” she says. “In general, it depends on the companies' objectives, their corporate strategies, the degree of maturity in the field of open innovation, and of course, the time horizon of the outcome of the collaboration with startups.” 

Before embarking on a partnership, both players should think carefully about timing, as this can be crucial for success, says Valcárcel.  

“The biggest failures occur due to the lack of maturity of the corporation in the open innovation field and the incorrect startup selection. In order to succeed, startups must consider if they can keep up with the timings and work that corporations expect of them. Another major failure occurs at the time of scaling the solution within the organisation,” she says.  

To scale safely, both partners should work to create a ‘sandbox,’ a safe environment that provides opportunities for variation and experimentation.  

Making innovation ecosystems available to startups 

According to Alexandre Bastos, head of front-end innovation at Givaudan, who also sits on the Startup Innovation Challenge’s jury panel, Givaudan works with startups in the same way as its internal innovation projects.   

“We set up a team focused on the innovation concept and work together to bring it to reality,” says Bastos. “In that context, we make our structure, knowledge, reach and innovation ecosystem network available, and engage them as needed. [We also] work with VC partners to review funding opportunities for disruptive technology concepts that are core to our strategy and innovation ambitions.”  

The company has its own due diligence process to choose which startups to work with, involving many different internal teams, from business, technical and innovation to IP, regulatory and operations.  

“We prioritise [startups] with a specific eye on strong and unique IP as well as sustainable and evolving business models for both parties,” Bastos says.  

The secret to success: Think big and be open to collaboration 

Bastos, who has also acted as a startup mentor at various programmes, such as MassChallenge, Startupbootcamp, Founder Institute Switzerland, and Bits x Bites, has three pieces of advice for both corporates and startups about to embark on a partnership: clarity, transparency, and speed.   

“Both Givaudan and the startup need to aim for clarity on the business opportunity for both parties. That's the first goal. Even if it's not completely fleshed out at the beginning, both parties need to see how it would play out at the end and what both are after.”  

“Second is transparency and this goes for both sides. It is really important to be fully clear with each other. Givaudan needs to be open about its ambitions and likelihood to bring the partnership to fruition, and the startup on their progress and achievements. And third is perseverance and drumbeat. We need to be diligent in delivering results, fast.”  

For Valcárcel, the secret to successful scale-up is to “think big and be open to collaboration” from the very beginning. 

“Focussing on scalability and distribution alliances is key to success,” she says. “Today, the route to market with a competitive price and quality assurance is more important than ever. And this is much easier from the hands of someone who has already developed and implanted knowledge and skills in the marketplace.” 

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