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How do startups best partner with big biz? Advice from IBM’s Nigel Beck

In the startup world, the allure of partnering with big business can be tantalizing. You’ve got your killer product but now face problems building a customer base, reputation, and the momentum needed to become continuously and securely viable.

However, as many an entrepreneur or VC will tell you, partnering with big business can be a huge, potentially dangerous, time suck.

Does that mean you shouldn’t even try?

No, said IBM’s Nigel Beck, VP for Ecosystem Development, at a recent talk at the F50 event in SF. The trick lies in figuring out what makes that big corporate decision-maker tick and making yourself notably valuable.

He started by explaining what might seem reflexive but what you shouldn’t do: launch in with a big pitch about how great your product is and how it’s going to transform a market (quite probably one that the big company exec cares little about).

Neither is it worth getting too deep too fast into the economics and showing impressive growth numbers. Let’s face it, you’re David to this Goliath and no matter how much you talk up your slingshot, your words will be met with guffaws.

So, what is a good initial approach?

Do your research and tie your product to the message driving the big business. If they are all about big data, show how your wearable can bring in new inventive data streams. If they are a cloud provider, sell the idea that your app will make their platform look cooler. That’s where they are struggling, and to quote the oft-used adage in the startup world: you need to address their pain point. Quite often that will be getting their message to resonate with a market which barely sees them as relevant.

F50 Nigel Beck Social Card Oct 2014

Just in case the big business you are interested with partnering is IBM, check out the Global Entrepreneur program.

Oh, and if you want to take a deeper look at why big business might partner with startups, check out the Business Tech Trends study which highlights the growing role citizen developers are playing in transforming top-performing businesses.