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UK tech can’t exist with a David vs Goliath mindset: why tech giants and start-ups must keep learning from one another to thrive

(Image credit: Image Credit: Rawpixel / Pixabay)

The technology sector stands out for many reasons. Among them is its unusual ability to partner and collaborate with one another, competitors included. This unorthodox approach, however, is crucial to the industry’s future sustainability and development. 

By openly sharing, integrating and co-marketing Ideas and technologies – whether as Open Source initiatives, or more formally via corporate collaborations and structures – these collaborations deliver some of the biggest gains for the UK tech industry. 

Incubators and funding mechanisms are a common ingredient of wider corporate innovation strategies. Successfully scaling them is the key to tech’s contribution to the UK tech economy.

How do these relationships work?   

We all love a David versus Goliath story. The story of the plucky underdog triumphing against the giant is one that’s often played out in the corporate environment. Startups Airbnb and Uber, for example, obliterated outdated business models and transformed entire categories to become almost unrecognizable in just a few years.

But far more common than a ‘battle mindset’ among those who look to build the next generation of high-growth businesses, is the search for intelligent collaborations. They may not generate quite as many eye-catching headlines or lengthy articles on the business pages, but they make innovation possible. These collaborations pave the way for progress, creating an environment of data sharing, idea development and shared resources which enable them – and businesses like them – to thrive. 

Instead of taking the ‘David versus Goliath’ approach, the best tech providers and agile innovators work together to fulfil and optimize the journey for all their customers. 

It’s a strategy borne out of pragmatism. The pace of change in the technology industry requires us vendors to work together in order to overcome the technical and practical elements of its implementation. There’s little point in re-inventing the wheel. Learning from each other will better position us to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

A winning relationship 

Collaboration between big tech giants and nimble start-ups isn’t just beneficial for the ecosystem; it’s also hugely productive for both parties involved. Large companies bring funding, contacts and scale to the innovative and agile attitude of start-ups. That's a powerful and complementary combination, whether you’re trying to enter new markets, launch new services or deploy cutting-edge technology.  

By collaborating with their smaller counterparts, tech giants can enjoy an array of benefits. These include being able to plug in the next generation of technology and innovation, without additional headcount, and offering customers a new suite of tools, applications or technologies, without having to build their own offering and pay the R&D and acquisition costs that come with it.  

Meanwhile, start-ups get access to the resources they need to rapidly develop and sell their platforms. Leveraging the trust, expertise and contacts of technology giants has the potential to supercharge their opportunities and development. 

Instead of fighting the giants, start-ups should leverage their size. In return, the giants get a unique perspective into the technologies of the future, and the ability to tap into them and add them to their portfolios.

It’s not only tech businesses benefiting, either. These relationships give customers access to best-in-class products in record time, helping them to continue serving seamless experiences to their own customers. Ultimately, everyone touched by these collaborations is better for it.

Making the vision a reality  

The benefits of this type of collaboration are clear for all involved, but making them a reality is the most important step. Plenty of tech companies experiment with how best to apply and embrace innovation opportunities. Do you offer funding in exchange for equity? Offer mentorship and training programs to identify and develop specific partner programs? Build a program of hackathons and challenges? 

After our recent success at Mention Me in joining SAP’s startup accelerator program, the SAP.iO Foundry run in collaboration with Publicis Sapient, we know there’s a lot of moving parts that must align first. 

Start-ups need to embrace longer-term ambitions. Identifying your value and being clear about what you’re bringing to the table keeps things productive. 

The tech titans need to commit more than just tangible resources too. There’s no point opening a co-working hub and putting some money on the table if you’re not fully committed to the success of the start-ups you work with. This is evidenced in the stellar results of programs such as SAP.iO’saccelerator program, which gives selected startups access to SAP’s sales, technical, and marketing resources, while providing mentorship and nurturing a long-term relationship with the Enterprise Application Software company.

Finally, both parties must embrace their flaws and their strengths. The agile and fast-moving nature of start-ups can be tricky for corporate structures to accommodate, but it’s also one of their major benefits. Start-ups can help to accelerate the innovation that originally built tech titans’ market positions, while embracing the processes and approaches that helped them to sustain it. 

A partnership for success 

Businesses that win through a David versus Goliath mindset are rare but it’s big news when it happens. Startup founders are easily seduced into thinking their future path should resemble these once-in-a-while occurrences.

But all the characteristics of a successful business partnership can be found in fast-growing startups working with – rather than against – tech giants. In order to secure both the company and ecosystem level growth that the UK tech world needs, we must power these types of relationships forwards, whatever form or business model that takes.

The result will be faster development of ideas, rapid product launches and bigger market shares. That has a trickle-down effect for other sectors. Technology is now irreversibly ingrained into our economic foundations. The pioneering innovations and concepts developed in the technology sector today will benefit consumers, businesses and infrastructure projects for a long time to come.

Climbing onto the shoulders of giants delivers real progress and shared wins. True collaboration and partnerships are not just a well-trodden path to success in the tech industry; they’re deeply embedded in the sector’s DNA. More relationships like these – and the triumphs that come alongside them – undoubtedly lie ahead.

Jocelyn Toonders, Head of Partnerships, Mention Me (opens in new tab)

As Head of Partnerships at Mention Me, Jocelyn oversees the referral marketing platform’s partner channel.