"From the beginning we have tried to identify the shared pain points for our companies. It was easy for us to agree on stepping up our interaction with existent customers." Foto: Pier47.

Fix for the startup-corporate culture gap: Speak up about your pain points.

If you start with the tough topics, the distance between startup and corporate might be smaller than you think. Case in point: The recent IoT collaboration between the entrepreneurs from Anyware Solutions and the energy giant E.ON.

Closer engagement with the customers. That was the motivation driving E.ON, the major energy supplier, to team up with the startup Anyware Solutions. The corporate’s Danish division and the entrepreneurs launched their first service in October. A ’smart adaptor’ that monitors light, sound, temperature, and humidity in private homes. The data is visible for the user in an app, advising them on where they can reduce heat consumption or improve the indoor climate.

“It breaks from the traditional customer relation with an energy company, which does not go far beyond receiving a bill and paying it,” says Morten Bremild, Co-founder of Anyware Solutions.

He has been closely involved in the collaboration, since his startup connected with E.ON through an accelerator program in January.

“From the beginning we have tried to identify the shared pain points for our companies. It was easy for us to agree on stepping up our interaction with existent customers. The next challenge we target will be a different one. This is something we keep a running dialogue about.”

A team inside the mothership

The ongoing alignment is helped along, since Bremild and his team work from inside E.ON’s headquarters in Denmark.

Lars Van Hauen, CIO at E.ON, wants all his employees to work with startups, so there is no visible division between them and the larger organization.

“What is interesting for me is that we see each other as partners that create new business. It would not add value for us merely to go in as investors in Anyware Solutions,” he says.

An important element in limiting the culture clash between startup and corporate has actually been Van Hauen, if you ask Bremild. Aside from E.ON he talked to around 30 potential corporate partners, spotted at conferences and through networking. In many cases the conversation was weighed down, because the corporate innovation departments had a limited knowledge of the IoT technology, Anyware relies on.

“With Lars we sensed that he already understood the challenges on the IoT market. We were not starting from scratch.”

Stepping out of the explorative phase

Although Bremild recommends that startups quickly ask corporates, where they can improve core business, he acknowledges the value of an explorative starting point. If the startup is early-stage, it can work, but he stresses that a collaboration without a clear direction is costly.

“The startup loses resources, if the partnership remains wide in scope. But it can be hard for the corporate to step out of that phase, because they are offered so many opportunities for collaborations.”

Still, Frank Oestergaard, IBM’s Director for Cloud Tech Sales & Solutioning Nordic, sees a move from a high quantity of startup partners towards fewer and better.

“At IBM we evaluate startups much more than we used to do — their platform, their technology, their skillset. And we have a team specialized to think as startups do, so it is easier for us to align our operations with the entrepreneurs we take in.”