Digital Shoreditch
How Brands Can Connect With Startups

Innovation is vital to long-term marketing success and consumer relevance. The explosive growth and diversity of startups – solving immediate business problems and disrupting incumbent models, backed by over $50 billion US a year in venture funding – challenges every company to tap into this ecosystem for partnerships, competitive advantage, and future-proofing their businesses. A recent KITE analysis found that 77% of the US Fortune 10 are working with startups in some capacity.

This dynamic environment makes it imperative for brands to find scalable, consistent and effective ways to engage the best-fit startups for your business needs.


Here are three ways to use digital platforms and technologies to start connecting with startups:

1)Activate internal social networking and knowledge sharing about innovation

At multinational corporations, teams distributed geographically and across disciplines often conduct similar research and engage in overlapping partnership explorations with startups, creating a lot of redundancy and friction.

Remove these silos and unify conversations to make smarter and faster decisions using these technologies:

  • Business messaging apps (e.g. Yammer, Chatter, Slack, HipChat);
  • Open innovation platforms (e.g. IdeaScale, HYPE Innovation);
  • Innovation partnership platforms: KITE was designed for this purpose, empowering you to quickly search and evaluate, privately communicate and make decisions with colleagues in real-time on over 460,000 global emerging tech companies.

2)Monitor and engage in the platforms that startups use

With limited resources, time, and reach, startups rely heavily on digital platforms to connect with investors, share updates on progress and other critical aspects of their businesses.

Brands can monitor and engage on these platforms to develop productive relationships with start-ups:

  • CrunchBase: startups create profiles to participate in the Business Graph – the Wikipedia of emerging tech;
  • Product Hunt: startups post new products, features or redesigns for feedback and exposure. Users vote for their favorites, creating a crowdsourced snapshot of what’s up-and-coming;
  • KITE: startups create profiles to connect with strategic partners and revenues so brands, agencies and corporations can more efficiently partner with startups;
  • Twitter: see real-time progress and thought leadership and connect with companies aligned with your strategy.

3)Put a call out for partners and offer incentives to engage

Publish your briefs and call for submissions for specific business challenges or areas of exploration in competitions or other formats. The key is to speak to startups in their language and make the qualifications and selection criteria immediately apparent.

KITE recently powered Unilever’s Go Global programme, a venture-level process for awarding nearly $1 million US to the best innovation partners globally across seven brands. We helped each brand to translate its marketing brief into a technology brief that would attract emerging tech companies for partnerships.

After three months considering over 30,000 companies, through a curated process and public applications, Unilever awarded over $700K US to seven stellar partners. This created immense learning for Unilever, which informed their product, process, consumer engagement, and go-to market strategy for the most ambitious brands in new markets.


By running the process publicly through and a dedicated microsite, Unilever generated recognition, accolades and affinity from the technology community for their leadership in corporate innovation. This led to the launch of the Unilever Foundry, an ongoing initiative to secure innovation partners for Unilever brands on an ongoing basis.

Other recent examples include:

  • Heineken Frontier: Four partners in four prioritized areas awarding €200 thousand in four months
  • Verizon Powerful Answers Award: Cash prize-style competition for over $6 million US in prizes for transportation, emergency response and the internet of things;
  • 12 impressive brand-startup partnerships 
  • Startup pitch competitions at tentpole events: SXSW Interactive 2015 hosted 80+ competitions for brand partnerships, including McDonald’s and Visa.

Key platforms and technologies to consider:

  • f6s: brands post competitions and challenges, targeting an established startup community;
  • Brand social channels, websites and PR vehicles: tout and share your efforts to bring entrepreneurial partners into your business.

Succeeding with your innovation partnership

Every brand must define its own approach to innovation partnerships. Leading marketers are adopting a ‘golden ratio’ [70/20/10 investment split between traditional, digital, and mobile or new] for investing, resourcing, measuring and committing to innovative models and platforms.

This might seem daunting or in conflict with near-term business requirements and revenue goals, however, emerging best practices and platforms designed to address this need, plus an increasing number of expert service providers and agencies, provide the models, scale and operational guidance you need to regularly work with and learn from startups.

Innovation partnerships are no longer an option; they are an imperative. Get ready to experiment and take some risks. The potential rewards of meaningful business growth and bringing truly unique experiences to consumers are well worth it. By partnering with start-ups, you set yourself up to transform your industry, reimagine relationships with your consumers and increase your brand reach like never before.

Tarah Feinberg is the CMO and New York Managing Director of KITE. Follow Tarah on Twitter:

Tarah is speaking at Ogilvy Lab live sessions as part of Digital Shoreditch 2015 at 10:45 a.m, Thursday 14th May, Shoreditch Town Hall. He will also be appearing as a judge of Unilever’s Scaleup of the Year 2015 Global Finalists at Digital Shoreditch, 2pm, Tuesday 12th May, Shoreditch Town Hall.

Follow @ogilvyUK for updates on his talk and innovation in brand advertising.

There are no comments

Add yours