Massive increase in corporate-startup collaborations – is it time to try it?

Usually startups have really good ideas, but often they can’t scale them fast enough to keep up with demand when they achieve product-market fit. And then we have the corporates who have the scale, but don’t innovate fast enough to keep up with the need for change. If you smash the two together, you can actually spark something that’s quite remarkable, quite interesting – and achieve scale in a new way. What is needed to solve the urgent challenges of today in other words. 
Michael Ambjørn, Managing Director of PropTech Denmark

PropTech Denmark and Colliers have recently worked together on a survey of real estate companies, proptech startups and scaleups – as well as established tech suppliers. And one of the takeaways is that more and more startups and corporates are experimenting together. And in the Nordics we have the unique cultural quirk that we tend to have fairly flat hierarchies, what is also known as a low power distance. So whether you’re the CEO or a recent graduate, you might be thinking about working with startups. Here are some questions to help you think through the opportunity as you pitch it to a friend, colleague or indeed the board. 

Start with the end in mind
As Kierkegaard suggested: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” And one way to make it easier to go forward is to start with a clear end in mind. In other words: what does shared success look like? A project like this is sometimes called a pilot.

Here are some quick ideas to get you started. If you already have a good working relationship with a prospective partner you may be ready to try and finish this sentence together: ‘we believe that by doing this pilot we can deliver…’ and then add in some or several of these: increased margin / reduced cost / reduced risk / higher efficiency / reduced CO2 / other positive environmental effect(s). 

It is not enough just to want to ‘just do something together’. To make it through the shared effort you’ll need tangible, practical and measurable ways of tracking shared progress. Because even if the hierarchy is relatively flat, you still want to be accountable for your results. That said, what you’re each looking for might differ significantly:

The startup side of the partnership might want to find sites to test a new solution on a larger scale, validating a specific feature or approach. For the other side it could be about gaining insights into new technology or perhaps a way to practice working in more agile ways. Either way, for both parties, learning has to be a high priority – and for both it has to eventually fit their respective existing or prospectively new business models.   

“Within the past year, almost every third of established corporates in the real estate sector answer that they have collaborated with one of more startups regarding development of implementation of new digital solutions. This shows a rapid increase compared to 2021, where only 18 % – less than 1 out of 5 – showed collaboration.”

– The 2022 Danish Proptech Report

In my experience, having overseen 40+ corporate startup pilots over the years, a good pilot:

  • Has a clear and ambitious hypothesis 
  • Has a real focus on sustainability – and innovation 
  • Draws on strengths from both the startup and the corporate – both human and tech 
  • Is limited in time and scope – (say, 12 weeks) – and resourced to succeed 
  • Is a value driver for both parties – a win-win – including learning that’ll inspire onward 

Now if you haven’t found the right counterpart for such an exploration then one place to meet other potential like-minded people is through an association. Big events can also be a way to kick-start new relations, and on that note, I hope to see you at our annual Proptech Symposium, with decision makers from across the Nordics and across the value chain. 

Michael Ambjorn is the Managing Director of PropTech Denmark – a non-profit association that brings together leaders across the real estate ecosystem with a common purpose to drive sustainable innovation and digitalisation within the industry. Members include both significant real estate players and a large number of proptech startups and technology suppliers.

Michael is also a Chartered Director – and has advised startups, impact organisations and change makers across five continents. He serves on a range of advisory boards and has previously held management roles at IBM, Motorola and The RSA. 

Scroll to Top

We use cookies to give you the best experience. By using our site, you accept the use of cookies.