Even if it often seems so, when you read the business press, innovation is not only meant for companies with large budgets. Medium-sized companies in particular must reinvent themselves in order to survive in the market. While corporations like to build up entire incubators and have several start-ups in the immediate vicinity, small and medium-sized companies have to go a little further in order to profit from the start-up spirit, but the effort is worthwhile for both sides.

When you start with the startup page, don’t forget that the founders are new to the market. They may have a great idea or a vision of how to revolutionize an entire industry, but they often lack direct access to potential partners. Founders and start-ups therefore depend on direct market access and reliable, established cooperation partners who open the right doors for them. This involves contact with end customers as well as business customers or business partners. This is where small and medium-sized businesses come into play, offering both as customers and partners manifold and often still unused opportunities for start-ups. In return, the cooperation with the start-up companies gives SMEs a number of opportunities of their own. At the forefront of these advantages is the strengthening of competitiveness and innovation. If you read this sentence now and wonder where you could find a suitable startup partner in your area, don’t worry. Geographical boundaries have meanwhile become secondary. If the right partner in Nuremberg and you are sitting in the deepest Fichtelgebirge, this is no reason not to enter into the cooperation.

However, what remains a factor is success. It is therefore important to record milestones and measurable success factors of the cooperation in a contract. Examples of such factors would be market maturity, development processes, scaling, sales or internationalization.


Innovation culture in SMEs

As good as the management’s intentions may be, it cannot be warned often enough that everyone in the company has to pull together. Employees in the company must be aware that cooperation is not a danger but an opportunity. The German Angst or the Not-Invented-Here phenomenon has already caused many a promising cooperation. No matter how good a product is, which was developed in cooperation with a startup, if the own employees do not consider it as part of their own company, it cannot become a breakthrough.

A good deal of change management is necessary to take the employees by the hand, otherwise the startup experiment will end up being doomed to failure. A culture of innovation must develop among SMEs. Instead of looking for start-ups that fit in with the existing culture, small and medium-sized enterprises have to consider how their own culture can be modernised without destroying what distinguishes them as SMEs – a difficult task that will be worthwhile in the end.


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