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Winning together: tips to successful corporate–startup collaborations

Lucia Sinapi
10 Jan 2022

“Blue-chip enterprises that want to make the most of innovation must build strong, trusted bonds with their internal teams, the startup community, and external third-party experts.”

This sentence happens to be the conclusion of a former FD Day session and the beginning of the 2021 FD Day session entitled “Winning Together: Tips to Successful Corporate-Startup Collaborations.” On stage, Frank Desvignes, global head of open innovation at insurance giant AXA, alongside Damien Philippon, COO & co-founder of InsureTech startup Zelros, and myself representing Capgemini Ventures.

AXA, Capgemini, and Zelros engage with each other in successful ways. The collaboration between Zelros and AXA was born out of the experience of Zelros’ founders within AXA, who were able to meet the insurance leader’s internal demands for external expertise with startups and enablers. Besides, the AI-driven platform dedicated to advanced distribution closed an $11m fundraise, backed by ISAI Cap Venture. Capgemini’s insurance business stream is substantial, Zelros’ solution is a game changer in Insuretech, thus fueling Capgemini’s strategy to address this fast-changing market demand.

Though, in such a crowded market, identifying new opportunities is not that easy. Proper targeting among north of 33,000 Fintechs/Insuretechs worldwide requires adequate identification and assessment. At Capgemini, it is the role of Capgemini Ventures to best support business teams leverage innovative startup solutions to best address client needs, by providing end-to-end services enabling scouting, assessment, and business collaboration leveraging internal tech experts, VC industry, and early metrics ratings.

Corporations engage with startups to speed up innovation and time to market. AXA’s high-level scouting capacities are also deployed worldwide, and the scouting process is carefully tied to business needs. Former AXA’s employee startups such as Zelros or Descartes Underwriting are now AXA’s business partners, and working closely with Capgemini is helping adopting this innovation at scale.

Capgemini’s global footprint can facilitate startups international expansion, in particular thanks to its intimate knowledge of solutions landscape in the various geographies, as for North American insurance core solutions in the Zelros case.

Successful corporations between large corporates and startups requires though adapting to different processes and pace. AXA has an established framework to involve various stakeholders including legal and IT to smooth the collaboration process. Once priorities are established, it is easier to scale and accelerate innovation across your global enterprise.

Zelros’ feedback on working with large corporate was aligned on AXA’s feedback. Progress can sometimes feel slow, yet startups can’t just tell their enterprise partners to “hurry up.” Entrepreneurs must appreciate that approval processes can take time. Most crucially of all, startups must prioritize security. Zelros deals with data and AI, client prospects tend to request many security reviews and penetration tests. Ensuring your startup is ISO 2071-certified can prove valuable on the market.

Ensuring a smooth formalization process to large corporates/startups collaboration often represents the last mile but not the less challenging one. Capgemini joint initiative with Village by CA to publish a charter of Best Practices for Startups/Corporates relations is an open framework intended to pave the way for successful collaboration along the cycle, that can be adapted to the very circumstances.

The end of the session was pointing to the “magic ingredients” for scaling innovation, with Capgemini research suggesting three-quarters of finance firms do not achieve productive results from collaboration, there is still room for improvement.

Zelros insisted that startups shall start real-life deployment using real data rather as soon as possible beyond the proof of concept stage.

AXA stressed that open innovation strategy shall also leverage the digital transformation leaders such as Capgemini to establish quality engagement models with external innovation players and enrich the global business offer and value.

Capgemini Ventures stressed the multidimensional nature of innovation ecosystems, which now calls for extended ecosystem play on the market.