Digging down: How the corporate world should support startups

Giant corporations may seem like the polar opposite to the startup ecosystem – but they can learn from each other. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Daniel, an ambitious young founder of a tech start-up, speaks of his dismay when he was recently approached by a corporate ventures team.

Why would he want to give away a slice of his business – something he built from scratch – so that someone can park themselves on his board and provide ‘strategic direction’?

Daniel admits they caught him at a bad time – following an all-nighter spent trying to upload the next version of his software to the App Store in time for a critical deadline.

His point is although he desperately needs the help of corporates, at this stage he wants partnerships and revenue rather than investment. That way he gets to fund product improvements as well as keep more of the company he loves for himself.

Vitally, Daniel wants to prove to the market that his company, a data analytics and asset tracking provider, has what it takes to succeed.

That way he continues to grow, his valuation goes up and any future fundraising comes at a higher valuation.  


Vodafone’s Paresh Modi believes respect is key in startup mentoring. Picture credit: Paresh Modi

Scaling your way to success  

I spend around half my time talking to start-ups to understand what Vodafone can do to help them scale.

These businesses come in many shapes and sizes. Some are crystal clear about what they want, while others really haven’t thought about much beyond sketchy wireframes, or the stack of code in front of them.

Mativision produces and delivers interactive 360° content and immersive applications for global businesses and is a finalist in this year’s 5GDIG. Picture credit: Mativision

While venture capital can be useful, start-ups are often looking for different types of support depending on where they are on their journey.

This could range from free desk space, access to labs and mentorship, through to equity investment.

These are the key principles corporates should be adopting:

  1. Create impactful partnerships with real business benefit

We’re proud to work with disrupters such as Israeli start-up TechSee, which is reshaping how Vodafone supports millions of customer. And the award-winning Vidsy, a platform that brings technology design creatives together from all over the world to pitch content to brands and businesses.

Watch: Vidsy is one of the start-ups that works with Vodafone

We provide these start-ups with a speedy and fair procurement process, a valuable revenue source, and an opportunity to prove their solutions with one of the world’s largest brands, serving half a billion customers.

  • Give something back to start-ups and the community

Vodafone actively supports start-ups.

Examples of our programmes include Techstarter (supporting social enterprise), F-Lane (women’s empowerment through tech ventures), MIT Solve (empowering women and girls through technology) and Bright Sparks, a unique partnership with Oxford University Innovation that provides Vodafone’s brightest employees as mentors to early stage Oxford spin-outs.

  • Foster inspiration and tech invention

Vodafone has always been an early pioneer of mobile technology and 5G – with its ability to deliver superfast connectivity, low latency and more connected objects – is no exception.

Start-ups are key to uncovering innovation in 5G – delivering benefits to individuals and to businesses in areas such as media and entertainment, gaming, healthcare, smart cities and industry.

Using their robot Zeta, Zoa Robotics inspects and digitises sites which are large, remote or hazardous. Picture credit: Zoa Robotics

Vodafone’s 5GDIG

This is why we’re announcing the Vodafone 5GDIG. Our global team of partners and experts have helped identify 100 trailblazing start-ups in areas like telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, cloud gaming and much more.

We’ll be showcasing 20 of the very best 5G-ready start-ups – which we call the #5GDIGTop20 – in the coming weeks.

Start-ups should be treated with respect, and in a way that supports their journey at various stages of their development. They’re not tech toys for the corporate. They are key to creating tangible new benefits to both commerce and society.

We have a duty to inspire confidence in start-ups, to build new things and identify solutions previously not possible. If we do that, I’m confident that in return, they will do the same for us.

The full 5GDIG Top 20 list for 2019 complete with company profiles and contact information for all the finalists is available here.

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