This article is an interview with Carie Davis, Partner at Your Ideas Are Terrible and Program Director for the BridgeCommunity. We asked Carie to talk about corporate innovation and the roles and goals of the BridgeCommunity within the corporate environment of Atlanta.
What is the BridgeCommunity?
BridgeCommunity, is a unique program that grows the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlanta through startup engagement, partnerships, a powerful corporate member-to-member network and a local community initiative to help raise the technical skill level from high school onwards.
How does the BridgeCommunity work?
In short, we help corporations identify their pressing needs and then seek out startups to solve them. There’s 7 months of educating both sides, anticipating roadblocks, facilitating peer-learning, standardizing best practices, and working through negotiations to result in pilots and proof-of-concepts.
At the beginning of the program we work with liaisons at each corporation to match startups against core business objectives. Then, we spend the bulk of the program driving towards a pilot and helping both sides work better together. We train along the way to streamline the process. Startups get enterprise sales, negotiations and storytelling training and corporations work to make their internal processes more startup-friendly.
In 2016, 10 area startups worked with Capgemini, Coca-Cola, COX Enterprises, InterContinental Hotels Group, and The Weather Company and got 9 deals done. The new corporate roster adds Porsche North America and SunTrust Bank – we’re thrilled to have them join.
In 2017, we drove Startup recruitment by the participating corporation’s interests in Internet of Things (IoT), FinTech, and Marketing. We used these verticals to structure the interview process and drive recruitment efforts with a really targeted approach. By reaching out to an extensive referral network, we tripled the number of startup applications from last year. We chose 22 startups for the incoming cohort.
We’ve just started workshops and held a kick-off mixer so everyone can get to know each other. Now the startups go into the corporations to ask questions and suss out how to solve a problem or enhance an offering. They come back later with a targeted pitch in hopes of starting a working relationship.
What are the benefits to each side of the BridgeCommunity?
The easiest way to explain the main benefit to both sides is “access”. It’s difficult for startups to get the kind of prioritized introductions that the BridgeCommunity facilitates to potential enterprise customers. The same can be said for corporations who benefit from our curated, white-glove recruiting and matching process.
We also fast-track startups’ access to specific buyers within each corporation and top-level leadership support. That’s a very big deal to startups; however, the benefits to the corporate members are even more substantial. Our corporate members:
- Find innovation outside their four walls that can help the solve near-term business challenges
- Learn how to commercially engage with startups
- Get access to early stage technology that could give them a competitive advantage in the market
- Experience cultural benefits across their organization and increase employee engagement
- Build a reputation for being an innovative company to attract talent and customers
Why can’t corporations build what these startups are building?
It’s not that they can’t… the easiest answer is speed. Corporations have numerous operational constraints to make sure their focus remains on growing their core business. Because of those constraints, it takes more time and money for a big company to create something new. More time and more money doesn’t always make a better product.
In addition, big corporations tend to work in large silos to ensure operational focus. For that reason, it is difficult for those organizations to solve problems that span more than one functional area.
Finally, corporations – especially publicly traded companies – have to be careful with the new products they test and at what stage they test them. By working with startups, corporations are able to avoid the risks that startups take on in the earliest stages of their journey when validating their business models and developing their products.
What were the results of the first BridgeCommunity cohort?
Nine pilots and proofs of concepts were inked during the program last year, which you can read about here. More pilot programs are in negotiations.
Also, thanks to the added credibility the program brought, and the training startups received to polish their enterprise sales strategy, our 2016 cohort experienced other milestones over the course of the program – several closed new investment rounds, most grew their employee count, and all expanded their customer base, pipeline size and month-over-month revenue – the latter of which grew by 150% on average.
What’s one surprise outcome?
One benefit that we did not anticipate was corporate employee engagement. We didn’t anticipate how much the employees of the member corporations would thrive on the interaction with the startups. We heard firsthand how corporate employees felt like the BridgeCommunity gave them permission to do something completely different. Many looked at the program as a way to grow their professional careers. Duncan O’Brien, SVP and General Manager of Cox Enterprises, talked about the cultural benefits they experience at Cox during our showcase event last year.
What’s Next for the BridgeCommunity?
We’re riding high off of last year’s momentum and the incredible turnout of corporations and startups for 2017. Over the next seven months we all get to work and pop back up in October to share more lessons and progress with the community at our Showcase Event.