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Innovation at the Edge?

The challenges of hooking up with a disruptive business model startup.

I attended a conference of the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP) recently. Alliance Professionals are people who spend their day working at bridging divergent business interests with the ultimate goal of making alliances and partnerships be(come) successful.  One presentation that caught my eye discussed the challenge of successful innovation (introduction of disruptive technology) through the use of partnerships and partner management professionals.

This got me thinking about various challenges associated with innovation partnering and how they might be (more) successfully addressed by a mashup of lean startup and partnering practices.

From a corporate perspective, innovation gets harder and harder as you become more established (see discussions by lean startup thought leader Steve Blank). The checks and balances needed to manage growth (some would call it ‘necessary bureaucracy’) are a barrier to the entrepreneurial attitude of scrappiness and dealing with chaos of searching for a sustainable business model. Some believe that lean startup concepts can not be applied to matur(er) companies and vice versa.

If that is the case, what can we do to acknowledge the needs of both the innovation and optimization focused process?

I propose we focus on Strategic Partnering.

Strategic Partnering is a natural and necessary step for emerging companies on the path to maturity in today’s fast changing environment. There are barriers to growth that are too expensive, and too time-consuming in this rapidly change world, to attempt to resolve independently. In other words, at some point in de development of a new business model there will be a real need to connect with mature companies for continued growth opportunities. However, since we are focusing on sustainable business models, and not on products alone, the source of the tension becomes more evident.

Who are the typical players in this dance?

  • emerging disruptive business model company
  • corporate entity (or multiple)
  • VC which invested in the emerging company
  • Corporate VC or M&A team wanting to secure access to disruptive innovation

The numerous stories of David and Goliath that pop up (every Alliance Professional has at least one in his back pocket) suggest this will never work.  In the traditional view, corporates interests lead to the need for control, egotistic attitude, arrogance, naiveté about actual developments ‘outside the building’, and are common place in exploration discussions between potential partners in this dance.

Does a mashup of lean startup and alliance development offer a glimmer of hope for everyone involved?

I believe it can, and I will be exploring what this means in practice in a series of blogs here at Partnering Ready?

Topics I plan to address could include:

  • Evaluating the canvas as a starting point for the partner development process
  • Purposely validating hypotheses with Partnering in mind
  • Partner-related information collection
  • Partner candidate validation (two perspectives!)
  • Growth target setting with partnering strategy in mind
  • Per partner or comprehensive portfolio perspective?
  • Partner development accounting (analogous to customer development accounting)

Our starting point will be the lean canvas (see below), as discussed by Ash Maurya of Spark59, and the business model canvas from Alex Osterwalder, which includes a box for partnering hypothesis. Of course Steve Blank and Eric Riess ideas will be explored as well.

picture of lean canvas template

lean canvas as developed by Ash Maurya

I invite you to share your suggestions central to this challenge with me. I will do my best to respond to your comments and incorporate your suggestions in relevant future blogs.

Want more regular exchange? Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Steve Blank

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

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