The other side of the fence
Before joining Xylem, I was on the founding teams of two digital technology start-ups focused on the water and wastewater market. I worked with many major water corporations and industrial automation giants. Some engagements were non-starters, while others were quite successful.
Years later, and I’m on the other side of the fence leading Xylem Innovation Labs, Xylem’s global corporate innovation team that partners with universities and start-ups with the goal of forming commercial partnerships. When I joined Xylem, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my start-up founder experience to the table to help bridge the gap between start-ups and one of the world’s leading water technology companies.
Well, it turns out I've learned a lot more than expected and regularly share a few key insights with founders. Today, I want to pass along three crucial lessons I wish I knew when partnering with a corporation as a founder.
1) Do your homework!
Before you approach a large company, spend the time to get to know their business. Research the company’s portfolio of technologies and services so you can speak directly to how your technology would fit in.
Is your solution going to be disruptive to their current offerings or is it complementary?
Get to know the company’s target markets and customers. Will your solution help the company better serve current customers or reach new customers?
2) Stand your ground when scoping a pilot agreement
Engineers are curious folks, and when they’re evaluating a new technology, they often want to see how far they can stretch the technology potentially into a novel application. While it’s exciting to have interest and engagement from a big company, take a step back and remind yourself that a commercial pilot project is not a research project!
The purpose of a pilot is to test the solution as-is in its intended application to validate the claims you are making. Make sure there are clear objectives, success metrics, and an understanding of what happens should those metrics be achieved. If that goes well and the technology is validated as agreed by all parties, then you can decide whether to try an alternative use-case.
3) Remember that corporate employees are people, too
Corporations are made up of people! The best thing you can do is build relationships with people in the organisation and be curious. Ask for help navigating the organisational structure so you are speaking to the right person, in the right department.
Ask how collaborating can help them be successful in their role as a product manager, R&D engineer, salesperson, etc. Oh, and speaking of interpersonal relationships – don’t be afraid to pick up the phone! A lost art, but still one that’s appreciated in the water and wastewater sector.
Working with a corporation can be intimidating but like with any collaboration it starts with being open minded and prepared. If you’re interested in working with a corporation, start with these three tips, and I guarantee it’ll get you far.
- Sivan Zamir is the VP of Xylem Innovation Labs.