In more recent times, business ecosystems have been benefitting from partnerships and collaborations between these two different genres of business. There is a clear realization that the time is right for captains of industry to welcome smaller yet disruptive market players to the fold and collaborate rather than compete with them to meet unified long-term goals.
To better understand various issues around these potentially win-win partnerships, Network18 in collaboration with NetApp initiated a roundtable discussion on the changing paradigm of corporate innovation and how start-ups can be a key contributor. Moderated by Paromita Chatterjee, Senior Journalist, the participants comprised leading players from across the spectrum, including Parag Dhol, Managing Director, Inventus India; Monish Darda, Co-founder & CTO, Icertis; Ankit Maheshwari, Founding Member and President - Engineering & India Operations, Innovaccer and Madhurima Agarwal - Director, Engineering Programs & Head, NetApp Excellerator.
While collaborations between large corporates and start-ups are not new and have been formed in the past as well, over the last year and a half, the pace of acceleration of mergers and acquisitions and partnerships has become much faster. Representing a company that has a bird’s eye view of the industry and has been an active player in building bridges between start-ups and corporates, Parag Dhol explained why the current, post-pandemic era is a crucial time to focus on such collaborations. “Digitization has received a fillip due to what is happening around us and since the last 15-18 months, the speed at which businesses have had to adjust is much faster than ever before. Other trends that are coming together centre around the development of a multitude of technologies, such as cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc. I would say that with all these things coming together into the mix, it is not too hot or too cold…it’s just right. That’s the situation today and it’s the right time for start-ups and corporates to be talking to each other.”
Madhurima Agarwal agreed that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and those who were thinking of moving ahead on their tech agendas have really pressed the accelerator on it. She went on to elaborate on how these collaborations become win-win situations that benefit both parties, like a symbiotic relationship. “With start-ups and corporates coming together, it is great for the ecosystem, as a whole, because start-ups bring new thinking and innovation to the table while enterprises bring skill, credibility, scale and stability, which is very important, especially in sectors like banking and healthcare, where any disruption in services can be catastrophic. When these two join hands, they can provide innovative solutions which works best,” she stated.
Moving beyond the benefits of partnerships for progress, the panellists shared their experiences on the possible challenges and roadblocks that such collaborations could entail and how these could be addressed.
As a start-up that has reached unicorn status, Monish Darda recounted, “It goes without saying that openness on both sides is a prerequisite. Having a good fit of cultures and values is also important as that leads to openness and honesty and ensures a strong buy-in to how business will be done. Most importantly, a collaboration makes sense when it ensures that it all accrues to a bigger whole, where one plus one becomes four and not just two; in case of the latter, the two entities would have been as well off on their own.”
Ankit Maheshwari, also from a start-up turned unicorn, added, “Matching the speed of innovation and change between the two collaborators is usually a challenge because typically, start-ups are in the habit of moving fast while corporates tend to avoid moving too fast.” In terms of the pace of agility, both the corporate and the start-up may have to meet midway; start-ups must appreciate why corporates move at their pace and corporates must realise that things can move much faster and make some effort towards accelerating the pace. Beyond the pace of agility, sometimes it is the specific areas that need agility which must become the focus. “That’s where start-ups like us come in; we can give corporates the speed to market and agility that they may not have expertise in or may not be investing in,” suggested Monish Darda.
Another challenge Ankit Maheshwari highlighted was with respect to the tech pieces of both parties involved. “Unless the start-up and large corporate complement each other in the tech and innovation space, it becomes difficult. However, if these challenges are mitigated, partnerships can go a lot further.”
Finally, it all boils down to the intention of both parties to work towards solving problems together. NetApp’s Madhurima Agarwal said, “Acknowledging the challenges that exist is the first step to overcoming them.” Elaborating on her company’s process for collaboration she added, “The next step is to proactively build in processes and create a mindset to overcome challenges. NetApp Excellerator is a programme which has sponsorship at the highest levels at the organisation and at the global level too. A lot of time is spent selecting start-ups to ensure that the alignment is right. We are very cognisant of the fact that any start-ups that we decided to work with is looking for the same things from us as we are willing to offer. Once there is clear communication and expectation setting in terms of achievable and timelines, it becomes easier to move forward, avoiding common pitfalls.”
Within the ‘Don’t compete, collaborate and complement’ scenario, she offered insights on knowing when to encourage a collaboration. “When a disruptive change is being contemplated by a large company, it helps to do a landscape study and if something very innovative is being done by a smaller company or start-up, partnering with it could save time. Costs will automatically be saved on account of the time saving,” she said.
After the panellists shared their unique hands-on experiences with respect to collaborating for progress, she concluded, “Everyone is dreaming bigger and NetApp is part of that same fabric. This is a great time to be an entrepreneur and the trend towards greater collaboration is only going to increase, going forward.”
Applications for NetApp Excellerator Cohort 9, NetApp’s accelerator program is now open. Check here for more details: https://startup.netapp.in/The pages slugged ‘Brand Connect’ are equivalent to advertisements and are not written and produced by Forbes India journalists
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