“We are participating [in Tipping the Scales] to evaluate prospective partnerships and investment opportunities. As the bootcamp culminates in pitch presentations, I'm looking forward to a room full of potential customers and investors for these startups, learning about the next gen of LegalTech, RegTech and TaxTech solutions in Canada.”

– Brian Zubert, Director, Thomson Reuters Labs - Waterloo Region

Brian’s comment about the Tipping the Scales Communitech bootcamp – a six-day immersive program that is providing hands-on support for 10 startups in the legal, tax and regulatory fields and helps them connect with  customers and investors – is a good example of how far the thinking on corporate-startup partnerships has evolved. In the past, the relationship of startups and corporates could be adversarial, or at least held at arms-length, as the corporate feared the threat of disruption posed by the startup.

Today, corporate organizations like Thomson Reuters and Gowling WLG (who have partnered with Communitech on the Tipping the Scales program) have realized that while there will continue to be a few examples of small fish eating big fish (solo upstart disruptors fundamentally changing a market) – there are many more opportunities for organizations to leverage an ecosystem of partners in order to swim better and faster than they could on their own.

Moreover, the risk profile of disruption has expanded from startups to more nimble competitors and global tech titans like Google or Amazon. Given that all markets are being reshaped by changes in technology, customers, and society, corporate innovators are realizing they shouldn’t – and can’t – go it alone.

 In fact, large private- and public-sector organizations with mature startup partnering capabilities are going beyond saying they have an open-door policy with respect to engaging in startup partnerships. They are developing a partnering superpower to propel their businesses forward, to find new growth and new sources of differentiation versus their competitors. These organizations are, in essence, hanging signs or posting billboards that announce they ”want to win your partnership.”

“More than anything, the event has really underscored the symbiosis that exists between established professional services firms and new tech startups. Too often this relationship is framed as one of competition over collaboration, so it’s been refreshing to find that these startups are as eager to learn from us as we are from them."

– Bryce Kraeker, Gowling WLG, Waterloo Region Managing Partner

These partnerships wouldn’t be successful if there wasn’t a big win for startups, as well. While startups are uniquely suited to find and solve valuable problems, they have two ongoing needs: access to customers, and investment. For this reason, a key element of Tipping the Scales – in addition to providing advice, mentorship and tools – is facilitating the opportunity for startup and corporate participants to work closely together.

Does this kind of collaboration work? Without question: ever since Communitech opened up its space to corporates in 2013, enterprise firms have been taking advantage of the physical proximity of their labs to startups in the community, and sometimes in the same building. Proximity often generates mutually beneficial collisions. Canadian Tire, for example, embarked on a partnership with a startup called Alert Labs, to the benefit of both

“The fact that Gowling and Thomson Reuters were sponsors attracted us, because we were interested in making connections with them as organizations and also looked to leverage their own connections in the industries we were targeting.”   

– Dr. Luke Boudreau, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer, Bear Health Technologies

The one-on-one sessions with coaches from the Communitech community, Thomson Reuters and Gowling will have a meaningful impact on our trajectory. Each coaching session addressed a different challenge and provided much-needed perspective on how to tackle each one.

– Lucrezia Spagnolo, founder & CEO at VESTA Social Innovation Technologies

Tipping the Scales will continue in November, culminating in startup pitches to executives from Thomson Reuters, Gowling WLG, and their respective customers. The pitch session will also attract corporate and other investors to meet with participating startups.

 There’s a long and challenging road ahead for a company after meeting a promising partner – which we’ll talk more about in a future post – but building a relationship, arriving at a common understanding of problems and creating value for both parties, is always the right place to start.

The decision by Thomson Reuters and Gowling WLG to sponsor and participate in Tipping the Scales, combining their resources and ecosystems for a larger combined outcome, is an example of a corporate-collaborative – and something we’ll also cover in another future post.