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We recently held an AMA on corporate innovation with Cory Hooyman, lead innovation manager at Target.

We talked about corporate innovation and how to bring new practices and methods into your team and company.

Is there one thing that startup founders need to know to best interact with large corporations?

Ryan: The nice thing about our program in particular – especially when we’re working with a large corporation or retailer – is that there’s a massive gap between the corporations and the startups. It’s on both sides of it.

The startups, in a lot of cases, do not interact with an enterprise level corporation because they don’t speak the language. The timelines are off. A lot of the time, the professionalism of the startup needs to improve in order for them to interact with these very large organizations.

On the flip side, the corporations – and Target has done an amazing job of this – admit where they need to improve in order to interact with the startups. Not everything is going to be at the level of a huge consulting firm or a massive software company when it’s just three or four people who are iterating an idea.

When we look through the companies during the application process, we always try to project the potential of that team in their ability to work with the enterprise level companies. Just because they don’t know how to speak that language right now doesn’t mean we can’t work with that and hopefully get them to a level where they’d be able to actually interact with a 10,000 person company or 300,000 person company. That’s a big thing for us.

When we talk about team, team, team for the participants in the program, clearly, it’s about the entrepreneurial skillsets and the stuff that we identify as Techstars as an organization. But for companies that are trying to work with massive corporations, we also have to think about the potential of that team, their ability to interact with those large corporations.

Techstars sits right in the middle, between the startups on the one side of it and the corporations on the other. We plant ourselves right down the middle and try to be the middle ground between the two of them so they can hopefully speak the same language.

Cory: There are certain things that founders should watch out for. If the time is not right, the corporate yuckery can take place. They can in some way, shape, or form drown your company by not being aware of some of the things that Ryan mentioned, like the gaps.

I’ve talked to people who have, not through this program, but I’ve talked to companies locally who are on their (and I am not exaggerating this number) 28th, 29th or 30th meeting with Target. They’re still hoping for a pilot. People get passed around to various people in the organization with the intent of maybe this person might be somebody good to talk to.

Really, the only reason they keep getting passed around is because nobody has any money to do what these people are trying to accomplish. If you knew that up front, you might be like, “I’ve had my fifth meeting. I get it. I’m out. I’m going to go focus on something else.”

But because people don’t want to tell you they don’t have access to these resources, they just pass you along with the hopes that somebody else can deal with it.

Do you have a question about interacting and working with large corporations? Let us know in the comments!

Applications are open for 11 global Techstars Mentorship-driven Accelerator programs. You can apply now or check to see if the Techstars Roadshow is stopping in a city near you!


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Ryan Broshar
(@rbroshar) Ryan is the Managing Director for Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target in Minneapolis. He is an entrepreneur at heart who has been working in and with startups for his entire career. Ryan is also the Founder and MD for Matchstick Ventures, and Co-Founder of Beta.MN and Twin Cities Startup Week. @rbroshar







  • Helene Berkowitz

    I have a question about startups working with large corporations. Often early-stage startups are told something like ‘come back to us when you have POC’. But they can’t get to POC without working with the large corporation, so it’s a double-edge sword. I’d love some advice.

  • Stuart Clough

    My expereince (both inside and outside) large corporations – with innovation follows the Up Down Up approach. You start anywhere and move up the accountability tree until you find someone with authority to approve the required budget resources for a trial (or better still the full purchase of your service). Once you reach that person (or even higher), then you will be sent back down into the organisation to get approval from relevant people (when you are UP – ask who these people are so you don’t get diverted per this article).
    So you need then to get approval / buy in/ support from the relevant parties before you can go back up again for a final approval.
    Sometimes it can take 7+meetings. You need to persist. But if you aren’t on the Up Down Up track you are being diverted.
    If you don’t have POC – it is harder, you have to sell the POC as being a competitive advantage for the client. Give them some buy in to be the first to trial. How can it help their business to be the first. Then sell that.
    Good Luck!