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How to collaborate with startups?

Joint innovation projects by corporates and startups are being supported by ongoing digitalisation. These collaborative approaches consist of different engagement models such as startup programmes, accelerators and incubators, or other innovation hubs. However, only 30% of corporates describe themselves as experienced in cooperating with startups.1 Similarly, more than 50% of startups rate their collaborations with corporates as merely average or even as unsatisfactory.2

It is obvious that the tremendous differences in terms of culture, available resources and agility between corporates and startups present challenges for a successful cooperation. Thus, the failure and discontinuation rates of corporate startup collaboration remain high. To date, reliable success factors for these common development projects have rarely been identified.

For this reason, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) and Spielfeld Digital Hub, a common initiative of Visa Europe and Roland Berger, have initiated a research project. The one year study “How to collaborate with startups?” will consist of two parts.

During the first part, we will explore the different organisational models that foster startup-corporate cooperation. In addition, we will analyse the main collaboration goals of startups and corporates, while also considering certain important preconditions. During the second part, we will conduct a variety of interviews and workshops with startup entrepreneurs and corporate executives to address important cooperation challenges. In this phase, we will focus our attention on a few organisational models with lower financial entry barriers. The study will include several best practice cases from different industries and countries.

The findings will be of interest to mid-sized companies that are actively thinking about engaging with startups and those bigger corporates and multinationals that feel compelled to take action. Decision makers in charge of startup initiatives will not only learn more about the factors that are crucial for a successful collaboration but also find solutions to other important challenges.

1 Schättgen & Muhr 2015, p. 7. Match-Maker Ventures: The age of collaboration
2 Kollmann et al. 2016, p. 66. Deutscher Startup Monitor 2016: Der perfekte Start

Duration09/2016 – 09/2017
SponsorsSpielfeld Digital Hub GmbH


Martin Wrobel, Prof. Dr.

Associated Researcher: Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Society

Former employees

Other publications

Wrobel, M., Schildhauer, T., & Preiß, K. (2017). Kooperationen zwischen Startups und Mittelstand. Learn. Match. Partner. HIIG Impact Publication Series. Publication details

Lectures and presentations

Enabling Collaboration Between Startups and Medium-Sized Companies in Germany
Global Research Symposium for Marketing and Entrepreneurship. Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA: 08.08.2018 Further information

Martin Wrobel

Wie gelingt es etablierten Industrieunternehmen eine Start-up-Kultur zu entwickeln?
IGM Campus Nürnberg. IG Metall Nürnberg. Siemens Moorenbrunn, Berlin, Germany: 29.03.2017

Thomas Schildhauer

Zusammenarbeit etablierter Unternehmen mit Start-ups
Symposium Digitalisierung von Geschäftsmodellen in B2B-Märkten. Institut für Handel, Absatz und Marketing; University Linz. Wirtschaftskammer Oberösterreich, Linz, Austria: 09.03.2017

Thomas Schildhauer