Driving Transformation with Start-Up Collaboration

Living in volatile and complex world (so-called VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) many companies face strategic challenges concerning their business model – products, markets, customers and technologies. Especially, the automotive industry is currently characterized by uncertainty as to technologies – e.g. batteries vs hydrogen –, regulation – e.g. tighter CO2 regulation, e-mobility subsidies –, customer preferences – shared vs. ownership – and competitors – traditional OEMs vs. Tech companies.

 

In such an ambiguous business and regulatory environment trying out different paths to innovation is crucial for securing future success and the right to play in the market. However, intensified R&D and finding the right business model is costly – not only as to money, but also as to finding the right people for transforming your company to the next level. Reaching out to start-ups to successfully manage these challenges is a successful approach, as collaborating with start-ups bears many advantages in such volatile times:

  • Fast access to new technologies & experts
  • Less capital-intensive than own R&D (if only collaboration and no investment in the start-up)
  • Out-of-the-box thinking as to business model, technologies etc.
  • Faster processes and implementation (rapid prototyping)

Collaborating with start-ups allows a company to pursue different innovation paths and increases your chance to include technologies or approaches that differ significantly from your current product / technology / customer portfolio, since start-ups are not burdened by past success. As already pointed out by Christensen more than 20 years ago, successful firms face the innovator’s dilemma, i.e. many times they are not able to apply new approaches successfully as they focus on their current business model / markets / customers. Start-ups help companies to experiment with new approaches and show potential applications in new markets. Thus, successful collaboration with start-ups can play a significant role in transforming companies as to their product portfolio or experimenting with new business models. However, product and technology innovations are only one part of a start-up’s influence on your company. The real transformation driver lies within the way intensive collaboration changes the way your teams think and work.

 

At Webasto Group I was responsible for our successful collaboration with Startup Autobahn (Plug and Play Venture). Besides access to new technologies our main goal was to address the mindset at Webasto. We wanted to empower our teams to think more out-of-the-box by exchanging ideas with start-ups. To do so, we created a vivid network of enthusiastic start-up collaborators from all management levels including Board members. Learning to try out new ideas in a fast way (only 3-6 months for pilots) and experiencing that failing fast is not a career failure, but a crucial ingredient to innovation, were major goals of fostering collaboration with start-ups. Internal meet-ups, innovation

fairs, pilot reviews, lunch chats and so on nurtures the innovation spirit and spreads it across the company.

 

So, if you want to empower your teams to address the challenges of VUCA, strengthening start-up collaboration can be a great way to provide room for experimentation to your teams.

Yet be aware, true transformation means that also the management teams must be willing to change.

That is, willing to accept that teams will

  • Discuss Management decisions
  • Bring forward new ideas & ways of working
  • Call for getting rid of cumbersome processes
  • Want more time and space for creativity & experimentation

Cooperating with start-ups will probably intensify such demands, since your teams will experience first Hand that other ways of working exist. For example, start-ups normally do not have any extensive hierarchies, they probably use Design Thinking tools and Scrum for their projects, are more inclined for digital solutions and so on. All topics which many companies try to spread internally in order to be more flexible. Thus, if you are really looking to drive such a transformation, then providing opportunities to your teams to collaborate with start-ups also provides a safe place for your company to observe and try out such new ways of working.

 

To sum it up, successful start-up collaboration provides many advantages for established companies not only as to access to new technologies and products, but also to experimenting with new ways of working and changing the mindset of people. In doing so, collaborating with start-ups can drive your transformation.

 

If you want to learn more about how to enable such a fruitful collaboration and support your transformation initiatives, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (See Contact).

 

Since writing articles and sharing my thoughts is a rather new adventure for me, please let me know how you like it and what I could improve. Looking for your comments.

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