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6 March 2013

Comment: Why corporate venturing needs to adapt to survive

SETsquared chairman Simon Bond discusses what barriers corporate venturing needs to overcome in 2013 and beyond.

Author: Simon Bond, innovation director, SETsquared

The final chords of Auld Lang Syne had barely rung out across the UK when the news of administrators walking into HMV and Blockbuster sent us crashing into 2013 with a bang.

And with their struggles, the adage “adapt to survive” has never been more  relevant.

But while the need for high street retailers to embrace online shopping has been shouted from the rooftops, an evolution in corporate venturing has been quietly simmering in the shadows.

A new flavour of corporate strategy is developing around open innovation and forward-thinking corporates in the UK are beginning to open their eyes to this approach.

They know that in a globalised economy, innovation and speed to market are vitally important and having deep pockets may not be enough.

Rather than burying their heads in the sand, some large companies are bringing together the supply chains with multiple start-ups and smaller companies to accelerate the speed to market.

Historically, corporates have looked at venturing as a form of creating external, proxy R&D centres.

However, times are changing and this model is becoming increasingly dated. Technology and indeed society continues to evolve at seemingly lightning pace, constantly changing the face of the markets in which we operate.

This is where open innovation comes in.

The most intuitive of corporate venturers are adapting their approaches to achieve this speed. Rather than seeing their corporate venturing targets or open innovation partners as proxy R&D departments, or the means through which to access new markets, they are developing a more sophisticated view of how start-ups can exist and flourish within their own supply chains.

By collaborating with a number of start-ups, rather than investing heavily in one only, they are able to generate greater returns, allowing them to take products to market faster.

Our partnership director, Graham Harrison, says: “The open innovation approach is one that we are championing at SETsquared. As a partnership that collectively supports the growth and success of new business opportunities through spin-outs, licensing and incubation, we believe it has an important role to play in the evolution of corporate venturing.”

Indeed, SETsquared is acting as the connector between corporate venturers and start-ups to facilitate the open innovation approach. Just last year we piloted a new programme called ‘Meet the Prime’, where we put large corporates face-to-face with a number of high tech, high growth potential start-ups and emerging technologies from the universities.

The corporates we ran it with, such as BT, were exposed to innovation in early-stage technology companies and recognised that engaging with such companies and researchers can help them better identify opportunities.

Looking forward to the rest of 2013 and beyond, I see partnerships like SETsquared playing an increasingly vital role in putting corporates face-to-face with these innovative start-ups.

Our five business acceleration centres across the UK, each linked to a research intensive university, bring together a hive of innovative companies and give corporates a chance to see them together. The incubators create an ecosystem among their own clients, which corporates are keen to tap into.

The most forward thinking of corporates are not only using open innovation, but they’re looking to incubators as a fast and effective way to set it in motion.


*SETsquared is a collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey which partners in enterprise activities and collectively supports the growth and success of new business opportunities through spin-outs, licensing,incubation and education. The partnership also works with industry through research collaboration and consultancy.

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