Lessons on Corporate Startup Collaboration: PwC Netherlands

Lessons on Corporate Startup Collaboration: PwC Netherlands

21-Dec-2017 by Misha de Sterke

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.

While most startups have the mind-, skill- and tool-set and entrepreneurial passion and focus to facilitate their growth, 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 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 interview our respected Intrapreneurs in Residence at Startupbootcamp. To learn from the trenches how corporate startup collaboration really works, we caught up with Ilja Linnemeijer, a partner at PwC, and Anne-Lou Gerrits, Manager at PwC. They have a great experience in collaborating with startups.

PwC has been a partner of all Startupbootcamp programs in Amsterdam since the inception of Startupbootcamp. Ilja and Anne-Lou and their team work closely with different startups to bring innovation to PwC and their clients. We discussed the topic of Corporate Startup Collaboration and how to maximize collaboration with startups.


Why does PwC collaborate with startups?

According to Ilja Linnemeijer, Partner at PwC: “There are many reasons for us to work with startups, for instance for us it is very relevant to learn about new business models and emerging technologies, so we can better help our clients with their challenges. It also gives us a good insight into how the startup entrepreneurs innovate, and it helps us to educate and inspire our staff.”

An important aspect is to connect with the startup ecosystem around topics like Smart City & IoT, Digital Health and for example CyberSecurity. Our involvement in these ecosystems helps us build bridges for our clients and introduce them to emerging business models and technologies. We invite them for instance to the Client- and Partner Sneak preview of a program or organize specific meetings for clients to meet the startups and talk about how they could help each other. It really helps when we introduce these emerging business models and technologies to our clients. They don’t have to develop these business models themselves but need to know they exist and can have an impact on their business in the future. You would not want disruption to happen in your own backyard and because you did not see it coming, and miss out on any opportunities because of that.

We also share our knowledge with our clients through the ‘State of Tech’, a comprehensive study where we explore the most interesting and impactful technologies and how these may change our world.

Another important reason why we partner up with Startupbootcamp is talent development. We are living more and more in a world where companies expect their employees to have a position in the startup ecosystem and understand the startup culture and methodologies. We want our people to be trained in the new methodologies around innovation like ‘Lean Startup’. To deal with the uncertainty the Digital Age brings us, it is necessary that we are able to become more agile and nimble as individuals. Our ability to learn needs to speed up and that is exactly what the lean startup method brings us. By sending our people into the startup ecosystem they learn how to think and act as an entrepreneur.


Does PwC work with startups themselves? How do you help startups?

We collaborate with startups and corporates. We experiment with incorporating startups in our own business as well by creating, for example, a new service together. A good example is our cooperation with Arcnet or our partnership with FuelUp, a Startupbootcamp alumn.

When it comes to introducing startups to our corporate clients and relations, we analyze startups at two levels. When a startup is looking for a corporate to collaborate with we will help to set up the connection so they can work on ‘proof of concepts’. After participating in several Startupbootcamp programs we understand much better how we can help early-stage startups. When startups are growing, we help them to find opportunities at corporates to validate their business models and when they are ready to scale we can help them with our own services to help them grow internationally and use our international network for them to be successful. So we help startups build their relationships and provide help in each unique phase of their growth. In this way, we help validated business models scale in our network.

Another important angle is the ‘tanker’ vs the ‘speedboat’. Startups want to move fast and a corporate often has all kinds of systems and processes for their checks and balances. Because startups may not yet have a track record, it can be risky for a corporate to work with them. Corporates are afraid of damaging their reputation, which is completely logical. While a startup does not always see the damage a corporate can suffer when collaboration is not a success. This kind of sensitivity is necessary for a corporate to develop. On the one hand, there are lots of arguments a corporate should operate faster. On the other hand, a successful startup needs to have the stamina to collaborate with a corporate. Having a corporate as a demanding and challenging client (call it a ‘venturing’ client), can really help a startup to fully understand the pain points their solution addresses and pivot quickly where needed. It is also very instrumental to optimize their internal process of delivery and execution.

When do you introduce a startup to a corporate?

First of all, we ask if there is a fit between the startup and the corporate. At the end of the day, we need to solve problems for our clients. The second one is the maturity of the startup. Can they talk knowledgeably about their business, do they understand or want to understand how a corporate is working? How prepared are they? Do they come in time for their appointments? Before we open up our network we really need to know startups are serious about the opportunity. Over the years we have made a lot of introductions of startups to all sorts of corporates through all sorts of means, being it in the earlier mentioned Client- and Partner previews, Demo Day, at PwC events, one-on-one based on interest of a corporate or at our initiative where we saw value in introducing startups. Since we know and understand the process these startups go through, it also gives us the confidence that these startups will be well prepared and have learned in the program a lot on how to work together, present themselves properly, etc.


Share with us your experiences as an ‘Intrapreneur in Residence’?

Anne-Lou explains: “I work a lot with big corporate organizations in my specialized area of Tax. Working with these startups has challenged me a lot to broaden my horizon and deal with questions that I have not been exposed to before. By being present on site at Startupbootcamp during the program, I got a lot of exposure to the whole ecosystem of mentors, partners, other IIRs, startups, corporates, investors, etc, which has tremendously increased and enriched my personal network and gave me a lot of new perspectives.”

It is very interesting to see how startups are growing and the business model is constantly changing (pivoting) in this process. At the beginning of my career, I thought that if you had a nice idea the rest would follow. Now I understand it is not just about ideas but how you have to learn and adapt your business model constantly as a team and have a great timing for your market. And when startups are working together with a corporate it is important that they scope their initial collaborations very clearly. Our Intrapreneurs in Residence learn how Startupbootcamp’s filtering process works for selecting the top startups in the world. Because we learn from this and have this experience we can facilitate collaborations between small and big companies much better.

As a side effect, I have also learned a lot about PwC itself and it gave me an opportunity to work within a lot of different disciplines from within PwC and learning a lot from them as well.

So by walking around here as an ‘Intrapreneur in Residence’ both our horizon and our network are getting enriched. Our business intelligence for our clients gets way more interesting because we actually know and understand the field of startups.


Curious about the secrets around collaboration with the startups and how to innovate fast? Contact us for more in-depth case studies on ‘Corporate Startup Collaboration’.


Chief Content Officer at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam / Innoleaps/ The Talent Institute: Responsible for content creation, quality and content marketing. Member of the Leadership Team.