8 Types of Corporate-Startup Engagement Models with Examples

8 Types of Corporate-Startup Engagement Models with Examples

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Powered by digitalization, entrepreneurial spirit and the agility to pivot swiftly, startups are seen as potential partners for corporations across all sectors to engage.

For innovative initiatives in particular, more corporations find it far more valuable to leverage the innovative technology that startups have developed through mutually beneficial engagement models.

Yet, in all of these initiatives, a major roadblock remains. How do big brands identify the right method to partner with startups in the first place?

This article identifies the 8 common types of corporate-startup engagement models, each being illustrated with benefits, limitations and examples. Weigh the pros and cons of each method and select the right model to start the engagement journey.

Read more: 5 steps to successful corporate-startup engagement

1. Sponsorship

Corporation sponsors a specific event to engage with the startup ecosystem.


  • Brand awareness
  • Gain access to events that expose the corporation to the startup ecosystem


  • Difficulty to track tangible benefit
  • Fixed timeline
  • Difficulty to tailor given the many other sponsors
  • Minimal exposure to a large pool of startups of a certain quality/caliber
  • No clear path to developing new lines of revenue for the corporate sponsor


Read more on Sponsoring and Disrupting: How to Achieve Breakthrough Innovation

2. Reverse Pitching

Corporation hosts events to pitch their problem statements, business and operations challenges, ways they’d like to see these be addressed, and enable the startup to propose solutions.


  • Quick sourcing of potential solutions to a real-life challenge
  • Relationship-building with startups
  • Increased brand awareness within the startup ecosystem


  • Limited pool of startups
  • Limited to the time and place where the reverse pitching takes place
  • Poor problem definition
  • Focus on incremental innovation


3. Mentoring

Corporation provides resources in the form of mentorship programs, thus creating sustainable relationships with startups.


  • Exposure to emerging tech and talent
  • Identify investment opportunities and potential collaborations
  • Giving back to the startup community


  • Little tangible benefits that come out in the early stages
  • Considerable effort for an unpredictable ROI


Source: LimeHK

4. Third-Party Accelerator Program/Incubator

A startup accelerator is an organization created by experienced entrepreneurs to help early-stage companies develop their product, hone their business model, and connect with investors.


  • Immediate access to a pool of well-coached startups
  • Easy scouting thanks to industry-segmented programs


  • No set timeline without clearly defined structure or expectations
  • Not adapted to the corporation’s specific needs


Source: CyberPort HK

5. Corporate Accelerator Program/ Incubator

An incubator or accelerator that is run by a corporation aims at developing potentially profitable ideas and offers supportive environments for entrepreneurs, startups, and scale-ups. Whether it’s from inside or outside the company.


  • Tailored to your needs and pain points
  • Chance to drive the solutions of the startups into a direction that will benefit your corporation


  • Requires a considerable amount of time and effort to source relevant startups
  • Limited in terms of change management as it is often isolated from the rest of the company
  • Difficulty to find the right talent to run the accelerator/ incubator
  • Hard to generate business cases
  • High overall cost


6. Corporate Venturing

Corporate Venturing is the practice of investing corporate funds into external startups. The goal is to gain strategic competitive advantage and potential financial returns.


  • Have deal-making authority
  • Diversify from the corporation’s core activities
  • Build relationships with the ecosystem and gain exposure to emerging tech and talent
  • Steer the direction of the startups
  • Secure technology
  • Gain synergies


  • May not be a part of a company’s short- and middle-term goal especially in times of economic downturn


Source: HKSTP

7. Open Innovation Challenge

A competition that encourages startups to put forward their most relevant and innovative solutions to solve a corporation’s problem. It can be open to a wide audience of internal and external stakeholders.


  • High ROI by identifying the best startup acquisition channels
  • High participation rates if done right
  • Increased brand awareness through exposure to a wide audience


  • Limited pathways to take ideas to the next step after a challenge
  • Depending on the timeframe of the challenge, feasibility and quality of ideas might lower when you’re not sourcing from a high quality pool of innovators


Source: Ubudu

8. Partnership/POC

These partnerships between corporations and startups take a range of forms, including investment, incubation, and contracts.


  • The agility and momentum of startups enables quick moves through product prototyping, development, and deployment
  • Startups’ access to latest technology enables the creation of industry-leading products
    Fosters better customer experience


  • Stability is not ensured as most startups are risk-takers who embrace uncertainties
  • Companies need to provide a significant amount of resources and support for product development
  • High effort to switch to agile mode


What’s next?

After acknowledging the details of each corporate-startup engagement model, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of your top choices, and eventually choose the model that best fits your organization.

Make sure you’ve learnt about the engagement framework in relation to company objectives and the resources commitment graph of different CSE models before you choose the right model.

5-step guide to corporate-startup engagement

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