How a Corporate Giant Can Support Your Startup (and Vice Versa) - SPONSOR CONTENT FROM ENEL - Harvard Business Review

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Everyone knows Thomas Edison’s classic observation about an inventor’s toil. And as a leader of a trail-blazing startup, you probably see the world the way Edison did.

If your startup is like most, you’re fueled more by a singular creative vision than deep pockets. Tackling your own challenges, and those of the businesses and individuals you serve, can’t happen through the sheer force of your will.

Your challenges are unlike those of large corporations. While they may not match you on a single-minded innovative vision, corporations enjoy such marketplace advantages as funding, reach, manpower, and experience far beyond your own.

But what if the hidden genius behind your startup—that 1% inspiration—isn’t your innovative idea itself, but the business model behind your idea?

A large company that might seem on the surface to be your startup’s antithesis could become your closest collaborator, forming a partnership that greatly elevates you both.

Given startups’ more typical goals—raising capital, going public, selling the company—collaborating with a large corporation may not be the most obvious growth strategy you’ve thought about. But with the best partnerships, the advantages work in both directions.

For a startup, teaming up with a corporation to bring your ambitious blueprint to life may just scratch the surface of a relationship that could also bring you access to a treasure trove of data, customers, and expertise that’s otherwise beyond your reach.

And for a corporation, teaming up with your startup could uncover potential applications for your ideas that expand their own definitions of their audience, their reach, or their business practices—even if you’re working in different industries.

Crowdsourcing Innovation

A large corporation might discover world-changing concepts from any source: startups, universities, researchers, industry experts, partners, even competitors. The Rome-based multinational energy corporation Enel applies this collaborative strategy in Open Innovability, its platform for crowdsourcing innovative ideas and solutions to global energy challenges.

Enel views startups not as investments to purchase and possess, but as partners to unite and collaborate with, and grow together. The Open Innovability platform has built hundreds of partnerships based on innovations at all stages of evolution, from theoretical models to finished prototypes, ready to roll out to the marketplace.

Using Open Innovability, Enel connected with iGenius, an Italian software startup whose conversational artificial intelligence (AI), crystal, helps businesses access relevant data in real-time and report readable, comprehensive insights. After identifying their mutual business objectives, Enel applied the iGenius software to its Global Power Generation operation and now plans to extend crystal’s application beyond the energy, utilities, financial, and pharmaceutical sectors using it today.

Another startup, E-Labos, developed IoT-based software to help energy utilities and industrial plants spot and remedy such disruptions as water leakage, power monitoring, and voltage levels to keep customers online. The partnership has helped make Enel’s energy distribution processes more efficient and economical while raising the startup’s global profile.

A young Italian company, weAR, developed augmented reality (AR)–enhanced “smart digital manuals” that efficiently extend the distribution of complex training and predictive modeling. Partnering with Enel through Open Innovability has helped weAR grow into a large international group, stretching its customer base to Europe and Latin America, and potentially reaching industries beyond energy and manufacturing.

Collaboration and Open Innovability

Putting this collaborative strategy into effect requires an open-minded corporate culture that welcomes change and embraces risk-taking. “To innovate is to play poker, not chess. You have to bet and be ready to make mistakes,” says Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer at Enel. “Innovation serves sustainability and social change, and our main objective is to achieve it.”

At the heart of Open Innovability, along with innovation, is sustainability: a prerequisite for every invention Enel introduces across its business practices: Infrastructure & Networks; Markets; Enel Green Power, focusing on renewable energy; and Enel X, devoted to residential, municipal, and industrial energy transformation.

ReShape, Open Innovability’s ongoing call for startup proposals, includes two challenges closing at the end of November 2020. One sustainability challenge focuses on digitizing scalable recovery plans for local markets, and the other is to develop connectivity and digitalization that combats social inequality. The list of partnerships and challenges keeps growing.

Best of all: If a ReShape challenge sparks your 1% inspiration, you’re not stuck with the 99% perspiration on your own. A true collaboration isn’t about funding your work but joining you in your effort. Even if you hadn’t considered joining forces, think of this teamwork as a win-win-win: for the corporation, your startup—and the planet.

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