Start-ups and SMEs – how companies can learn from each other

In today’s business world, new factors count that were unknown to classical entrepreneurship. The dynamics and agility of the individual processes are now a guarantee for the success of the company. Entrepreneurs need to rethink, because tomorrow’s winners are the ones who help shape change and the future. However, small and medium-sized businesses in particular often find it difficult to do so. In the search for a solution, SMEs are therefore increasingly turning to the start-up scene and are trying to learn from the young, innovation-driven founders and adapt their methods to the classic business models.

The classic entrepreneurs of medium-sized businesses have had enough of rigid structures and endless meetings, they want to lead a disruption of their industry, but one that they want to lead. But it is precisely the breaking out of the fixed structures that is the problem of many entrepreneurs. There is a lack of capacity, both in terms of money and personnel, to try out something new and to push the boundaries of one’s own business area. By cooperating with start-ups, medium-sized companies hope to find solutions that they cannot create themselves – a revolution in their industry.


Possibilities of cooperation

The possibilities for networks and cooperations between established SMEs and start-ups are manifold. In order to gain an understanding of the start-up scene, SMEs can first take part in events for start-ups or initiate a so-called hackathon or bar camp themselves. The last points are the last ones, where participants from different areas, often start-ups, come together to work together on a specific topic or a particular problem.

An alternative is to hold workshops in which founders and SMEs meet directly to exchange ideas and learn from each other. In the end, there are no limits to the creativity of SMEs. Everything is allowed here in order to find the right partner, who drives the innovation of the business field together. Networking via business networks such as XING or LinkedIn is also conceivable. Companies can network in groups using technologies that are relevant to them and build up a strong network of experts through active participation in the discussions there.

Start-ups and SMEs – obstacles in practice

The greatest danger to the success of the cooperation between SMEs and start-ups is usually the often very different corporate cultures. Startups are companies that are currently in the discovery phase of their business model. In the worst case, an excessively structured, bureaucratic or run-in approach, as is often the case in SMEs, can slow down the start-up and nip the desired agility and dynamism in the bud.

It is therefore important to understand at an early stage what the individual positions mean and what the difference between the different company sizes entails. Start-ups need to understand that there are other processes and waiting times in larger companies that need to be followed, so there must be no frustration if things go differently than usual or take longer. Conversely, however, it is similar, start-ups are companies that are just beginning to invent themselves, their business model is changing frequently and is dynamic, the fixed structures that can be found in SMEs are therefore, if badly applied, an obstacle in the development process of young entrepreneurs.


Both SMEs and start-ups have to embark on the experiment and take into account each other. This is the only way to achieve a successful cooperation.

Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker
Alexander Pinker is an innovation profiler, future strategist and media expert who helps companies understand the opportunities behind technologies such as artificial intelligence for the next five to ten years. He is the founder of the consulting firm "Alexander Pinker - Innovation Profiling", the innovation marketing agency "innovate! communication" and the news platform "Medialist Innovation". He is also the author of three books and a lecturer at the Technical University of Würzburg-Schweinfurt.

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