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This article originally appeared on Startupbootcamp’s blog, 17 Oct 2017

It’s no secret that innovation is the key to success for both startups and corporates. Collaboration between the two worlds is in many cases mutually beneficial. 

Most startups have the mind-, skill- and tool-set, as well as the entrepreneurial passion and focus that facilitate their growth. But they often lack access to clients, capital, and resources. Connecting with corporates provides them with useful connections, access to resources, market expertise, and brings them revenue.

Large corporates, on the other hand, have the resources, capital, users, and distribution power to grow successful innovations fast. They are also experts in executing known business models. But the mind-, skill- and tool-set to search for new business models is not always a part of the corporate DNA. In addition, big companies often struggle to innovate due to structural barriers. Collaboration with startups can help corporates to discover new business models and foster open innovation. The outcome is clear: startups and corporates often need to collaborate to innovate.

In this context, we interviewed our respected Intrapreneurs in Residence at Startupbootcamp. To learn from the trenches how corporate startup collaboration really works. We caught up with Josje van der Snoekand Aafke Wiegersma, New Business Development Managers at Centraal Beheer in the Netherlands. They have great experience collaborating with startups.

Centraal Beheer is the partner of the Startupbootcamp Smart City & Living program and FinTech & CyberSecurity program in Amsterdam. Josje, Aafke and their team work closely with different startups to bring innovation to Centraal Beheer and the other labels of Achmea, the largest insurance company in the Netherlands. We discussed the topic of Corporate Startup Collaboration and how to maximize collaboration with startups.

Why is innovation so important for Centraal Beheer?

Our customer is in transition. More and more of our customers become entrepreneurs, which means they have different needs. We want to respond to these changing needs, which means we have to be able to respond quickly. Besides that, the insurance market is changing. More and more startups are engaging with the insurance branch and they come up with new ways of insuring products and services. Centraal Beheer is in search of new business models that would help us with this transformation.

We believe in co-creation. As a corporate, we have the means, the network, the processes and the customers. Startups are fast, dynamic and innovative. If you combine Centraal Beheer and startups, beautiful things happen. An important aspect Centraal Beheer needs to grow and develop is an entrepreneurial mindset to create new business. We can learn this by collaborating with startups. We see that startups can think outside the box because they don’t have the constraints in policies or the culture of the corporates. We think that this out-of-the-box thinking is important because we want to provide our customers with the best products and services.

Within Centraal Beheer, we believe in open innovation and a strong ecosystem. We know that we cannot innovate by ourselves. We need external partners, like startups, entrepreneurs, and other corporates to innovate. If you only want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Startups are one of the most important partners in our ecosystem. As a corporate, we are not used to experimenting. Startups challenge us to do that. They taught us that failure is the same as progress. Doing regular experiments and testing things out helps to kill your darlings before you fall in love with your ideas too much.

Can you tell us something about the collaboration that Centraal Beheer has with startups?

We collaborate with many startups in different forms. Our strategy is based on co-creation and win-win: we, as a corporate, learn as we work and as the new technology/concept emerges. A startup gains access to our network as well as market and consumer knowledge. Together we improve the technology/concept and/or find new business models for the startup.

For example: at the moment we are doing two pilots with Feli, one of the alumni from the Startupbootcamp’s Commerce program. Their initial idea was to build a gift app. So definitely something different than our current business model. But the technology they use is amazing. They give online advice. And we have many products that need to have an online advice tool. Together we discovered a new business model for Feli. In the pilot, we built a prototype for online advice. We can use it for different products, for example for our disability insurance. For Feli this is also an opportunity because they can use this prototype to sell online advice to other companies. If the opportunity arises, Centraal Beheer may also buy a startup. But this is not the starting point of our collaboration.

We also cooperate with 24sessions, another alumnus of Startupbootcamp Amsterdam. They offer an online way to meet customers and send immediate feedback. 24sessions is cooperating with Centraal Beheer in a pilot. Thanks to their application, communication with our customers just became a lot easier.

 

How do pilots with startups work out in reality?

It is important to keep it very small and not to integrate it into our business as usual. We learned a lot from former pilots and collaborations. We are used to working with preferred suppliers and long-term contracts. Now we are in transition. We now have the fundamental building blocks to work with third parties, like startups. This starts with our internal organization, like IT, procurement and compliance. Together we are constantly trying to smoothen this process. Also, our Achmea colleagues are not afraid to take a risk. Our golden rule is: start small and dare to experiment. As a result, we significantly decreased the time to start a pilot.

Can you describe your role as an Intrapreneur in Residence? What are your activities?

Our role is to be a linking pin between the startups, Centraal Beheer and Startupbootcamp. We search for possibilities for Centraal Beheer and other Achmea brands, but also for the startups. We need to make sure we involve the right people at the right moment. It is important that we see the potential of the concept for Centraal Beheer and that the startup is able to convince us that Centraal Beheer needs their services. We use our internal network to incite colleagues’ interest in the concept. When they love the idea, we connect them to the startup.

As Intrapreneurs in Residence, we got infected with the way startups work and accelerate. Our role is to bring the lean startup way of working and implement this in our organization. We are developing our own corporate accelerator program. Another aspect of the role is knowledge-sharing with partners and startups. Together with the other partners, we discuss the challenges and best practices of innovation in every company.

What kind of advice would you give other companies and Intrapreneurs in Residence before they want to collaborate with startups?

Only do a pilot if it is valuable for your own business, not because you think that it is necessary just because you are being a partner of a specific program. For Centraal Beheer, a concept needs to match with our brand values. And more importantly, it needs to solve a problem for our customers or for our colleagues.

“Keep it small and simple. Do not spend a lot of time and money when you do not know if it will work.Start by doing a small pilot and see whether it works. Dare to experiment!

Also be flexible and honest. Stop or change the pilot if you don’t see any advancement. For example, a few years back, we started a pilot with a startup. They had a really great concept to work in a different way. However, we couldn’t get our colleagues to use it. So we decided to stop the pilot. It’s important to always discuss everything openly with the startup. So dream big, get things done and have fun!

Do you want to know more as a corporate about collaborating with startups? Contact Patrick de Zeeuw, CEO & Co-Founder of Startupbootcamp, Innoleaps and The Talent Institute.