“Always be pitching” has been the startup mantra for years, and for good reason. Pitching helps improve and validate ideas, understand customers, and accelerate learning on a consistent basis, so your company can build the right product.
But over-investing in pitches has a dark side. The obsession with the perfect pitch has led to countless pitch nights, competitions, and award ceremonies, but when pitches turn into a shiny object designed to win competitions, they’re no longer focused on growth. Successful companies don’t build for the pitch; they build for traction.
What happens after the pitch? A great pitch can win a competition, but turning that talk into something tangible is still a challenge for both the startups pitching and the large companies looking for innovation. There’s legal. There’s procurement. There’s filtering through thousands of willing startups that, at a glance, all sound amazing. There’s framing problems and innovation challenges the startups can meaningfully help solve.
When implemented correctly, pilots do something pitches don’t: pilots won’t lie.
At Highline Beta, when we make investment decisions and filter through startup applications for our corporate accelerators, we focus on getting companies to pilot quickly. We know that when startups launch pilots with large corporations, everybody wins, because when implemented correctly, pilots do something pitches don’t: pilots won’t lie.
When it comes to pilots and corporate-startup collaboration, large companies benefit from deep expertise to set up winning conditions, manage, and measure these pilots as part of their overall innovation portfolio and mandate. Doing this right could drive exponential return on investment and propel companies into the future, helping them create more value for their customers.
In Canada, our partner RBC Ventures supports innovation and the development of technologies by co-investing and partnering to develop new products and services – such as buying a home, or starting a business. For instance, Ownr by RBC Ventures has helped over 25,000 Canadians to start and manage their business — and with the recent acquisition of legal tech startup Founded, it has become the go-to solution for small business owners across Canada.
Globally, our partner AB InBev has managed to move the needle on sustainability by setting up 100+ Accelerator, an award-winning program that brings startups solving sustainability challenges into AB InBev’s orbit. The 100+ Accelerator has proved itself as a gateway to scale for startups like BanQu, which is focused on building financial identities through blockchain technology, allowing small-scale farmers to create a financial “passport” and digitally verify and build the history of their transactions in the global supply chain.
“Other companies started approaching us about applications of our software not just in farming, but in recycling as well,” BanQu Inc. CEO Ashish Gadnis said to me about participating in the 100+ Accelerator. “Over the course of 10 months, we launched projects in Uganda, India and Zambia – all thanks to the accelerator. We gained so much exposure for our work that in mid-2019, ZX Ventures invested in BanQu. That’s an amazing outcome.”
BanQu’s story is a great example of how startups that put their technology to the test with corporate partners and pilots can increase their chances of success.
Another great example is Winnipeg-based MicroTraffic, an engineering startup that uses AI and traffic cameras to analyze traffic at busy intersections and identify near-misses. When the company heard about the Safe x Connected Cities Accelerator with our partner Aviva Canada, the startup didn’t immediately apply. MicroTraffic had been steadily growing by dealing directly with their customer base for their technology, municipalities and governments.
The key to the success of corporate-startup collaborations is in identifying a potential pilot, which the corporate partner can support, and the startup can execute. MicroTraffic hadn’t looked deeply into the insurance sector for potential partnerships — but once the company joined Safe x Connected Cities Accelerator, the benefits of launching a pilot with Aviva Canada became clear. The program, focused on road safety, took the startup all the way through scoping a pilot to launching a national grant for cities that will now be financing major safety improvements for 50 intersections in Canada, using MicroTraffic’s diagnostic technology — in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton, and Halifax, accelerating the startup’s impact and success.
“This program has been super helpful because in startups, things are often chaotic and not all pieces are in place. Leaning on guidance from a large corporation with full structure and teams in place can have a transformative impact,” Craig Milligan, road safety engineer and CEO of MicroTraffic, told me. “We wanted to learn from Aviva and Highline Beta mentors, while figuring out ways we could combine our expertise to make a bigger dent for road safety together. I would say that relationships with the cohort companies were the next most important outcome. We met some cool people working in similar spaces, and these people will be connections for life.”