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The Key to Startup Matchmaking? "Swipe Right" on Structured Innovation

By Terrance Luciani, Vice President of Innovation, MetLife

Terrance Luciani, Vice President of Innovation, MetLife

Disruptive startups bring something important to the table. They have identified gaps in the market, areas for improvement, new technologies, and new solutions previously unavailable.

Large corporations have obviously done something right, too. They have built recognized brands that serve millions of customers by providing products and services that deliver real value. And they have resources to invest in—and scale—good ideas.

So, what’s the best way to maximize the potential Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment when they meet – so that the resulting innovation slams two great ideas together? The answer is a shared approach to innovation based on a rigorous structure.

But for it to work, egos must be left at the door. Startups must understand that being new is only the foot in the door, not a sustainable path on its own. And mature companies must understand that resting on the laurels of market share and revenue are just as unsustainable.

Here are three critical parts of a structured innovation approach taken from MetLife’s own playbook—an approach that has resulted in pilots, tests, or contracts with over 100 startups to-date:

First: Clearly Define the Use Case, or “Get everyone on the same page”

Startups and mature companies must agree on the use case the corporate organization needs to solve, asking, ‘what is the business opportunity they would like to go after’ or ‘what is the challenge they are facing’? This isn’t just a brainstorm. Rather, it must rigorously document as clearly as possible the use case, with clear deliverables from both sides.

Second: Create specific testing goals, or “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”

Both organizations need to build the test plan with clear criteria for success. Too often testing is done with no clear outcomes, which forces business and startup leaders into an uncomfortable dance at the end of the test about what was achieved. Having specifics eliminates the vague nature of testing and helps to drive a go-forward response. For example:

• ‘The product was able to connect to all 5 data sources without human intervention.’

• ‘The Robotics Process Automation (RPA) tool processed 85 percent of the documents and distributed them to the right business owner.’

• ‘The visual acuity of the drone camera achieved a 50 percent increase over prior approaches in spotting soil erosion.’

Whatever use case you are trying to solve, having a set of specific criteria will make the next-steps conversation much smoother. Both parties will have clarity about what is needed and whether or not the test was successful, thereby simplifying the process for the relationship to advance.

Third: Anticipate Next Steps, or “Plan the entire journey”

Achieving a successful test means accepting that the startup was able to solve for the stated use case. If those criteria are met, there should be a jointly-decided plan in place to move forward. This means that the organization must have alignment on resources and funding far in advance for whatever the specific needs will dictate. This is only fair to the startup that has invested critical time and effort in supporting the test.

This structured approach can lead to the best possible collaboration. It’s one in which the large corporation can leverage its trusted brand to support the growing startup and use its distribution to scale the startup’s nascent product offering. And it’s one in which the startup can speed up the ability for the large corporation to serve customers in a differentiated manner.

As in any relationship, recognizing that each party brings different talents to the table, and leveraging those strengths, is how you achieve success.  Swiping right on partnerships between corporations and startups can result in new opportunities to create value for customers.

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