Start-ups, large companies: Who inspires who, who mentors who? By Denis Gallot, Director of the Startup Lab
Published on 18 June 2021 by NEOMA
Collaborations between start-ups and large companies have now become common in the world of entrepreneurship. We are seeing the birth of a mutually beneficial relationship that begs the question: What can these new young businesses bring to large companies and vice versa? Is the large company acting as a Pygmalion for start-ups seeking to imitate it, or is it rather the start-up that acts as a muse to large companies in need of an injection of creativity? Well, it’s a bit of both. Each of them derive benefit from the collaboration.
Large company = Pygmalion (start-up)
Our instinct is to tell ourselves that the creators of start-ups need to pay close attention to what they are told by their elders, the large companies. They achieved success first, they have developed. They have experience, successes and failures to share. Their success can be traced back to several factors: products or services that perfectly meet the demands of the market, tried and tested manufacturing processes, effective marketing, etc. All aspects that creators would like to acquire as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost.
This experience is mainly shared through mentoring programmes that enable young entrepreneurs keen for answers to their questions to meet with directors or managers wanting to give a bit of their time. And in addition to the mentoring, large companies are often the first customers of start-ups, providing the first orders. So the creativity of the start-ups responds to the needs of the large companies, more or less well supplied, and is improved by applying agile methods.
Finally, large companies often have products or services that start-ups (future SMEs) might need one day. It is therefore in their interest to train them and help them grow to later become customers. The large company would therefore be acting like Pygmalion in training and instructing the start-up.
Start-up = Muse (large company)
But conversely, is it not also in the interests of large companies to take inspiration from start-ups? The risk of growing is that you lose agility, reactivity, and above all proactivity. You are better organised, you have processes in place, procedures to follow to avoid failures. Is this fine organisation not itself a hindrance to creativity and innovation? We see many large companies (or ex-start-ups that have in their turn become large companies) buying from start-ups (one of their technologies or their marketing innovation), which means externalising all or part of their innovation service.
Whether they act reactively (to avoid being uberised) or proactively (to reinvent themselves on a regular basis), large companies must constantly be alert to the new business models of start-ups. On the other hand, many creators do not necessarily have the ambition to be a ‘captain of industry’ by developing their business over several decades, but rather hope to sell to a large company as soon as the opportunity arises.
Taken to the extreme, this start-up creativity can even become a profession in itself: inventor of new businesses intended to be quickly integrated so that they can then devote their energy to a new idea.What’s more, the creators of start-ups more and more often practise reverse mentoring, which consists of mentoring the mentors (especially concerning their relationship with social media, and new trends). In these cases, the start-up is the Muse (which inspires) the large company.
Start-ups now play a prominent role in the transformation of companies and there is no sign of that