Is startup-corporate collaboration working?

It’s been a longstanding fascination with social enterprise that has led us, here at Hatch, to support business models that achieve a dual purpose. We meet and work with entrepreneurs on a daily basis and consistently find that they don’t just want to start a business to make money, but to contribute to more sustainable and equitable communities as well. Generally, we would call these businesses social enterprises, but the definition is becoming increasingly too narrow.

Instead, we are expanding and are reaching out to those entrepreneurs who want to derive profit, while producing mission-related benefits. This spectrum ranges from for-profit companies that give back through corporate social responsibility programmes to social enterprises that earn a profit through tackling social and environmental issues. For these companies, both profit and purpose play an integral role in the success of the business.

These days, every organisation needs a clear and visible reason for existence, especially as our world becomes increasingly noisy and complex. Understanding the organisation’s purpose provides a true north, a guiding light for the company’s culture. People will work harder and smarter when they know their efforts are not only serving monetary goals, but are contributing to something bigger.

While Hatch supports a whole range of entrepreneurs and startups, including mission-driven businesses, it was our contact with larger corporate partners that made a lasting impact on how we work, and on our business model. Thanks to our collaboration with Deutsche Bank and their Made for Good Programme, we were able to support over 50 mission-driven startups in South London, whilst building a strong employee engagement module to further assist these startups through mentoring and financial coaching. For some of these startups, the relationships that they could foster through our corporate partner would not have been possible in isolation. It was an active process of brokering connections that advanced the entrepreneur’s professional relationships, and provided them with the knowledge and expertise to help best run their business.

By facilitating connections between these corporate partners and startups, we get to share valuable resources with small businesses, whilst at the same time, enabling the large businesses to engage in social or environmental issues that they wish to address. We’ve also seen and worked with similar ecosystems that are growing here in London and in places like Rotterdam (Enviu) and Berlin (Social Impact Consult). It’s not easy to instigate systemic change, of course. In fact, it’s really quite difficult. But there are so many good examples around that we simply cannot ignore the benefits of bringing together mission driven-businesses, large corporate partners and intermediaries and support agencies.

Take for example Dell, who’s CEO Michael Dell, claims working with startups is a key strategy to “building a more entrepreneurial and innovative corporate culture” (Nesta, 2016). Or, Rabobank, whose startup programmes allows them to “establish a culture of constant internal learning about future trends and technologies”(Nesta, 2016).

With Beyond Good Business, our conference taking place in May, we want to explore the potential for established, large companies and startups to work together to address specific challenges we face, whilst building thriving businesses. It’s not only us who are obsessed with building bridges between newly and long-established businesses. We have met friends and partners from all over the UK and Europe who are on a similar mission. By bringing together players from the different groups, and showcasing cases of successful collaboration, we hope to foster meaningful connections for potential partnerships.

Building and sustaining purpose-driven businesses is one of the most fundamental shifts in the enterprise support sector, alongside commercial, often venture capital, backed for-profit businesses. We believe there is a real opportunity here to address society’s problems, share innovation, achieve faster product-market fit, increase workforce engagement, and deploy capital with sustainable returns.

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