Big Companies and Startups: Dream Team or Arch Enemies?

By Jeff Weedman and Roanne Lee of Cintrifuse

Meet an unlikely team.

Jeff Weedman is a Procter & Gamble veteran, most recently leading its Global Business Development arm where he initiated external relationships and became well-versed in corporate convention. He is expert in recognizing a business's potential and limitations.

Roanne Lee is a fresh-out-of-college Venture for America Fellow who came from the West Coast to Georgetown University in D.C., and has now landed in Cincinnati. Just 6 months into her first full-time job, Roanne brings an inquisitive attitude and fresh take to the table, which lends itself to a constant exchange of new ideas.

So what do these two have in common? They've paired up to work at Cintrifuse, a new organization designed to coordinate Cincinnati's regional start-up ecosystem by developing systematic relationships between the region's large corporations and fledgling startups.

Together, Jeff and Roanne have 36 years of work experience. At Cintrifuse, he unlocks the politics and leads the negotiations of business relationships while Roanne discovers and drives new technology. The juxtaposition of perspectives and skills between a 35-year corporate veteran and a bright-eyed recent grad make for a highly functional team.

Large Corporations vs. Startups

Large corporations leverage established structures and processes; startups trend towards disruptive innovations and challenging the status quo. Corporations know how to maintain scale and grow international markets; startups recognize alternative solutions and enter risky markets. While the two seem to operate in separate spheres, corporations and startups have the potential to grow dramatically by harnessing each other's resources.

A variety of recent partnerships, ranging from corporate venture funds to incubator programs, indicate the growing interest in leveraging the inverse capabilities of large and small companies. Whether it is just a passing trend or a genuine recognition of innovation, larger companies mutually benefit by integrating into the startup ecosystem.

The matching process

Without going into superheroes and sidekicks, large corporations and agile startups are successfully partnering in various formats around the country. These relationships are curated on a case-by-case basis by the corporation's "innovation" group or the startup's sales team. These partnerships are difficult to initiate. For startups, the challenges of navigating the corporate maze are intimidating. For larger companies, incurring riskiness intrinsic to startups are intimidating.

The Brandery, a Cincinnati startup accelerator, recently hosted an event called Brand Fusion that looked similar to speed-dating between startups and corporations. Around 25 companies including Kroger, General Mills, PepsiCo, Nike, P&G, and 41 startups participated in 15-minute meetings. They all established connections with potential partners and walked away able to better understand each other's needs and value.

The people making a change

Venture for America is a new fellowship program that makes it just as easy for a top recent grad to join a startup or growth company as it is to join a large corporation. VFA itself is working to reverse the brain-drain into certain industries, yet some of its high-powered board members and sponsors are corporate veterans. Supporters recognize the shifting imperatives towards value-creating jobs and are helping plug intelligent graduates in the startup community.

Cintrifuse: Bringing Ideas to Life

The incentives for these partnerships are obvious for both the corporations and the startups. For large companies that want to stay at the cusp of technological developments and keep their employees engaged, a partnership with a startup is worth the risk. For startups that want brand recognition, large revenue opportunities, and a future exit, working with big corporations presents a unique opportunity.

Cintrifuse is working to develop these systematic relationships. It seeks to coordinate the activities, resources and programs of Cincinnati's innovation ecosystem by connecting incubators, accelerators, investment sources, and diverse people to maximize collaboration. There are three core elements to developing a sustainable innovation economy: Access, Place and Fund.

The Access piece is about better utilizing the resources available for entrepreneurs. For example, streamlining the process for a startup to test its products at Kroger's or Macy's retail locations or engaging a P&G brand manager for market research both have enormous value for an early stage company. Cintrifuse also designs classes and matches startups with mentors to educate and inspire its on-site entrepreneurs.

The Place, meaning a place for all parties to gather, offers organic cross-functional collaboration among industries and creatives. The density of serendipitous collisions then attracts additional participation, fusing strategic partnerships and maximizing networks. It will act as the hub of innovation, education, and inspiration for the entrepreneurial community.

The Fund is a "fund of funds" that has raised $40+ million from P&G, Duke Energy, University of Cincinnati, Children's Hospital, and Western & Southern in order to place strategic capital in various Venture Capital funds across the country. Somewhat like a mutual fund of Venture Capital firms, Cincinnati's regional capital is then able to leverage a larger aggregate, channeling Series A funding into the area.

For some, the concept of corporate-startup partnership does not require explanation; a growing number of organizations are disrupting current assumptions and are convinced that institutional support can be tethered to effectively benefit startups. Diversity in culture, backgrounds, and resources allow for them to optimize their competencies and leverage differences as strengths.

The way the Cintrifuse team looks and operates, with veteran Jeff Weedman working alongside recent grad Roanne Lee, is similar to the behavior it wants to influence. In order to create jobs and stimulate the economy, we must promote collaboration across industries, sizes, and cultures.

Jeff Weedman is CEO of Cintrifuse and VP of Global Business Development for Proctor and Gamble. Roanne Lee is an Analyst at Cintrifuse and a member of the Venture for America Class of 2012. If you would like to support Venture for America in providing recent grads like Roanne opportunities to work with organizations like Cintrifuse, please support VFA in the JobRaising Challenge today.