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Why go it alone when you can collaborate?

  • Katy Ho of Digital Catapult looks at the reasons why tech companies shouldn’t overlook collaboration opportunities through partnership and technology experimentation programmes, accelerators and similar initiatives.

    It isn’t all about showing you the money

    Tech innovators are often attracted to accelerator programmes by the prospect of associated funding. Yet beyond the obvious benefit of cash or credits to support your scale-up activities, there can be huge power and value in working within a collaborative environment or partnership.

    For example, accelerator programmes for technology start-ups and scale-ups are time-limited programmes designed to support the activities of a cohort of technology entrepreneurs and innovators, and usually culminate in a pitch or presentation to investors or potential customers. While many will focus on innovation and development within a specific technology area, such as artificial intelligence, an increasing number of opportunities are bringing together government, academia, growing enterprises and large businesses to create cross-technology innovation ecosystems for exploring and addressing key issues, anything from cyber security to achieving net zero.

    Gain access to expertise and mentorship

    Collaboration can connect you with technology experts, researchers, and innovation managers, as well as the industry sponsors looking for solutions to specific real-world challenges.

    Working with people who are experts in their field – whether that’s 5G, augmented reality or manufacturing supply chains – can enrich your team’s individual and collective knowledge, enabling you to gain valuable insights and upskill your team members.

    Tech gurus can help you get past sticking points or challenge your ideas to help you pivot in new and exciting directions. Marketing and commercial specialists can help you shape up your go-to-market plans, develop your value proposition and refine your pitch to help you win new clients more easily. Industry experts can give you the inside track on their ways of working, challenges, and emerging market opportunities. And never underestimate how much working alongside motivated and talented peers can have a positive impact on you, your team, and your project.

    Gain access to state-of-the-art and innovative tech

    Many programmes enable you to access physical and digital resources that would otherwise be out of reach, such as more compute power, or specialist labs and testing facilities. Others enable you to test and try new innovations as part of your own solution development.  There may be unexpected opportunities for synergies within your cohort, and the chances are that you’ll form alliances and connections that can last long into the future, for mutual benefit.

    Put your business under the spotlight

    Collaborative programmes often culminate in a showcase or pitching event of some kind, typically to an invited audience of investors or potential customers – a rare occasion when a carefully selected group of interested people are brought together for you in one room, especially for your benefit. These events offer you a stage from which to pitch your concept or demonstrate your solution to warm prospects, and also present you with valuable networking opportunities on the day and afterwards. There can also be associated award schemes that will highlight your work and attract interest from a wider public audience.

    Preparation for such an event requires rigorous pitch refinement and rehearsal, and so having objective and supportive mentors can help you to maximise your chances of success on the day and in the future – another advantage of working in a collaborative environment.

    “The opportunity of doing a deal, and having a contract, whether it’s a pilot to start with, or a longer-term relationship over time is incredibly powerful,” says Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult.

    “You can prove that your solution can scale. Other investors can see your early-stage business has got the mature management, and the sophistication of technology, to work with a large corporation. It’s therefore likely to receive further investment off the back of that collaboration.”

    Industry needs your help

    In late 2021, Digital Catapult surveyed 100 UK manufacturing leaders, and found that 73% included collaboration with start-ups as part of their long-term business strategy. And 92% of those who have already worked with start-ups would do so again. Companies are looking to technology to help them reduce operational costs, grow their businesses, and become more competitive in a global market.

    Successful proofs-of-concept or prototypes can deliver significant commercial advantages for challenge-setters and the start-up or scale-up they elect to work with. For example, the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator saw start-ups successfully develop cutting-edge solutions for industrial giants that included Sainsbury’s, Babcock and BAE Systems.

    While joint projects between start-ups and larger corporations enable the sharing of knowledge, insights and best practice, they also give big business an opportunity to access creativity and skills that they don’t always have in-house. After all, collaboration works both ways.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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